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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Juvenes Translatores 2012 Award Ceremony
Brussels, 27 March 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by congratulating you, the winners of this year’s contest. You outperformed 3,000 other talented competitors. Well done to you all!
I am delighted to see that the popularity of the Juvenes Translatores contest grows every year. This year the number of participating pupils was up by more than 400 compared to last year, and was the highest since Juvenes Translatores was launched in 2007.
What is more, the number of language combinations used - 148 - was also the highest ever.
Your success really shows the value of language skills, and how they can open your mind to new possibilities. And I am confident your example will inspire more schools and more students in the coming years.
I would also like to congratulate and thank the teachers. Your work and dedication are, without doubt, a major factor in your students' success. We hope you will share with us all your good ideas for language teaching.
Congratulations also to the parents! You can be very proud of your children, whose great achievement is, I am sure, due in no small part to your active support for their passion for languages.
The theme of this year’s contest was volunteering – and feedback from the schools showed how popular this was. In fact, it even inspired many of our young translators themselves to engage in volunteering activities – with some enrolling as volunteers for the Red Cross and other NGOs following the contest.
I take this opportunity to announce next year's theme for the contest, again building on the European Year. As 2012 is the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, we would like to focus precisely on this latter aspect. Solidarity between generations implies a reflection on how to create supportive conditions for seniors and enhance their active ageing. I'm sure the subject will prove as inspirational as this year's.
Today's winners include students from bilingual families and immigrant backgrounds. For example, I noticed that our winner from Romania, Anna, comes from the Hungarian-speaking part of the population.
Growing up with two languages makes it easier to learn others and become truly multilingual. Your different backgrounds also reflect the linguistic diversity of the European Union, which strives to promote not only its 23 official languages but also the myriad regional, minority and immigrant languages spoken across Europe.
But you can also be fluent in many languages without coming from a bilingual home. Living abroad, for example, is the time-honoured way to improve your language skills. For instance, Sara, our German winner, went to Hungary primarily to attend a music school. But not content with perfecting her skills on the flute and piano, she also came back with fluent Hungarian!
And our Italian winner, Francesco, got the highest score in a German test at the Goethe-Institute in Turin after a study visit to Germany.
What else can help us learn and improve our command of languages? Many of you ascribe your language skills to using computers and the internet. For instance, Martin from Slovakia, who likes programming and web designing. And Janne from Finland, who spends a lot of time on the internet, which probably explains why his English is so good. I've picked out just a few examples – but every one of you has an interesting background and reasons for loving languages.
Your personal stories show that languages open doors, and that translation can build bridges between people and cultures.
Translation is not only about transferring a language. It is also about conveying a culture and a way of thinking. We get insight into foreign cultures through reading foreign books, articles and poetry – and often the only way we can do this is thanks to translation. Translation also plays a key role in bringing films and TV series to a wider audience, thanks to subtitling.
In recent years, translation has played an important part in social media. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, LinkedIn and other social networks have become popular across borders and continents because of translation.
Social media involve a new generation, your generation, in a global exchange of ideas, thoughts and contacts. In these situations, translation is often done on a voluntary basis, to involve more people around a common interest. And keeping in touch with friends abroad via social media is of course a great way of using and developing your languages.
We are also more aware of current affairs in other parts of the world through the translation of news. News agencies recruit many translators so they can understand and convey news from different parts of the world. Broadcasters and newspapers also depend on the work of translators to present the news and their message in the language of their audience. So translation fosters cooperation and enhances cultural exchange.
And how would we cope without multi-language user manuals for all those devices that are part of our daily lives, from smart phones to digital cameras?
Translation also makes the work of an institution like the European Commission possible. Translation oils the wheels of European integration and facilitates communication with the general public. Half of Europe’s population is monolingual, and for them in particular, translation makes it possible to understand what goes on in Brussels.
And even those of us who know foreign languages need translation, because few of us can read more than five languages or so – apart from some exceptional people, the real polyglots, two of whom you will meet tomorrow when you visit the Commission's translation department.
Thanks to translation, people can understand EU laws and policies that influence their daily lives – either on paper or on the many EU websites that cover these matters. They can address the EU institutions in their own language – and are guaranteed an answer in the same language. These are crucial for making sure that European integration retains a solid democratic basis.
I hope these examples help explain why professional translation is so important – and why we organise this contest. We want to raise awareness of the importance of translation for European integration, democracy and economic growth, and develop a sincere interest in this profession.
The number of EU texts that need to be translated – laws, policy, web texts, correspondence with national authorities and the general public – increases every year, as does the demand for qualified and specialised translators.
Let me be frank with you: translation is a challenging job, which requires good analytical skills, an excellent knowledge of the source language and a perfect command of the target language. It also takes some technical skills to become a good translator, given the growing use of technological tools, such as machine translation and translation memories.
General or specialised knowledge is important, as well as curiosity to learn more about the subjects of the texts you translate. And last, but perhaps most importantly, good writing skills in your own language – to produce a text that is not only understandable, but sounds natural. The best translations are the ones where we aren't even aware a translator has been involved.
So, given the importance of the translating profession for the EU, and the intellectual challenge it represents, it can be a very rewarding and gratifying job. And maybe some of you, encouraged by this contest and the visit to the DG Translation headquarters tomorrow, will choose to pursue it as a career. We certainly hope to see some of you back here in a few years as our trainees or even our colleagues!
Independently of your future career choices or plans, I hope this trip to Brussels will give you an opportunity to make friends with fellow students from across Europe and realise how much broader your horizons become with each new language you learn.
And I hope that, when you get back home, you'll become our best ambassadors, telling your friends and schoolmates about your visit here and about the idea behind the EU – that it's not about erasing our separate national identities or replacing them with some generic European one, but rather enriching all our cultures through a constant exchange with others.
I congratulate you once again on your success. Thank you for your attention, and enjoy your stay in Brussels!