European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Young talents for an ancient art
Juvenes Translatores Award Ceremony
Brussels, Charlemagne Building, 25 March 2010
Dear students, dear parents, dear teachers, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me first of all congratulate the winners of our Juvenes Translatores contest, the third time it has been held. Well done!
I have seen some of the texts that were chosen last year; they were not at all easy to translate, mixing factual details and extended metaphors.
According to the professional translators who marked your copies, the general quality of translations — and yours in particular — was extremely good, and I am very pleased with the results.
Education plays a crucial role not only in improving the future of Europe as a whole but also in your own chances of getting a better job: the ability to move easily between languages, an ability you have amply demonstrated, will be a capital asset.
Thanks to your language skills, you will be better equipped to travel, to pursue your studies abroad or to start a career in another country.
But that is not all: moving from one language to another, from one culture to another, also means adopting a different perspective, a different mindset. And when you are able to put yourselves in somebody else’s shoes, you are more tolerant, more respectful.
In the multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual Europe of tomorrow, translation will play a fundamental role in ensuring peace and prosperity.
I also wish to congratulate your parents and teachers who accompanied you on this trip to Brussels and who encouraged you to take language studies seriously. I am sure that they are proud of you, but they deserve at least part of the credit.
Languages are an important part of our identity, and learning foreign languages allows us to broaden our horizons, to look at our own habits more critically and to approach problems in a creative and innovative way.
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When you are 17 or 18 and starting to consider what your adult life could be, novels and films offer a safe way of exploring the many possible paths that you might take. But imagine how limited the choice would be without translation.
How many of you would know Homer and Shakespeare, Molière and Cervantes, Goethe and Dante if they had not been translated? How many could enjoy the films of Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg and Fritz Lang if they were only available in the original language?
Translation is the key to the development of our cultures. It is the salt that gives taste to your bread and the yeast that makes it rise. It is the basis of the most important kind of international trade in the information society: the exchange of ideas, opinions, notions and dreams.
The European Union promotes translation as an essential tool for fostering the development of a European identity. The Ariane, Culture 2000 and Culture programmes have supported hundreds of literary translation projects; training and cooperation in the field of translation is one of the priorities of the Lifelong Learning Programme for next year; and preparations are under way to launch a new European prize for literary translation.
But the European Commission is of course not just preaching the advantages of translation. On the contrary, it provides a living example that translation is not the problem, but rather the solution.
It is thanks to the Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation, or DGT as we call it, that European citizens can read and understand EU regulations and decisions, that they can write to the EU institutions in the official language of their own country and receive a reply in that same language.
For more than fifty years now, this well-oiled machine has been delivering day by day translations of all the legislative documents adopted by the European Council and Parliament, as well as the main policy documents, making them accessible to all interested parties.
This afternoon, you will visit the Brussels headquarters of DGT, and see for yourselves how our translators work. Maybe some of you, encouraged by your success in this contest and by this visit, will choose translation as a career.
I strongly encourage you to do so. Translation is a challenging job, requiring good analytical skills, an excellent knowledge of the source language and perfect command of the target language. More and more, it also requires good technical skills, given the growing use of new technologies, as well as problem-solving abilities.
In exchange for the efforts it demands, however, translation can give you great satisfaction, as do all creative jobs, together with an awareness of your contribution to removing barriers and building solid bridges between cultures.
In the words of Primo Levi, a famous Italian writer and translator:
Translation is more than a work of civilisation and peace; it is uniquely gratifying. The translator is the only one who truly reads a text and reads it in its profundity, in all its layers, weighing and appraising every word and every image and perhaps even discovering its empty and false passages.
You are now approaching the difficult choice of further studies or a job. Whatever your future career will be, I wish you all a gratifying occupation, and a lot of success in your adult life!