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Speech: Languages for solidarity

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/13/303   11/04/2013

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European Commission

Androulla VASSILIOU

Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Languages for solidarity

Juvenes Translatores Awards Ceremony/Brussels

11 April 2013

Dear winners, parents, teachers, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by congratulating you, the winners of this year’s Juvenes Translatores contest. I am delighted to see that it gets more popular every year. I am happy to see more schools and pupils join as I am convinced that language learning not only increases people’s chances of having a successful and interesting career, but also contributes to a sense of solidarity among Europeans. Your success shows how valuable language skills are, how they open up the mind to new possibilities.

I’d also like to congratulate and thank the teachers involved. Your work and dedication are, without any doubt, a major factor in your students’ success! I hope that you’ll share your recipes for language teaching with us.

Congratulations also to the parents! You can be very proud of your children. Your active support for their passion for languages has certainly contributed to their achievements.

I am very pleased to see that the Juvenes Translatores concept has found followers outside the EU. I extend a warm welcome and offer my congratulations to the winners of the translation contest organised in Turkey, who are also here today.

The theme of this year’s contest was solidarity between generations, echoing the theme of the European Year 2012.

Umberto Eco said that translation is the language of Europe, and I could not agree more. But if translation is the language of Europe, then solidarity is its spirit – and neither can be taken for granted in a Europe of 27 as they require active everyday effort and cooperation.

Translation contributes to solidarity: it brings people together and it helps them to feel included, informed and involved.

The theme for the 2013 contest is again linked to the European Year. 2013 is the European Year of Citizens, so the texts to be translated for this year’s contest will focus on EU citizenship and the benefits it offers to people – as private individuals, consumers, residents, students, workers or political players.

Europe has always been about citizens. Its very first regulation, adopted in 1958, ensures that citizens can contact the European institutions and receive a reply in their own language. This means that everyone who wants to be informed about what the EU is doing can access and understand the information that’s available.

The European Union needs its citizens and their constant support. It is important for them to take part in the democratic process that shapes the EU. Translation makes this possible for those who do not speak foreign languages.

I am sure that the topic of European citizenship will be just as inspiring and attract just as many impressive contributions as this year’s theme.

I mentioned that the popularity of the contest is growing every year. One school, the Salzmannschule Schnepfenthal from Germany, shows exceptional commitment to language learning, as they have now won for the third time.

Another school, in Italy, won in 2009 and decided to change its curriculum to have more language learning and translation. And it won again this year!

Language learning and translation go hand in hand. It is no coincidence that many of the winners know three languages or more, showing a true passion for languages.

For example, the Dutch winner, Anne-Mieke Thieme, started learning Spanish while still in primary school and attends a bilingual secondary school. On top of her knowledge of English, French and Spanish, she is now learning Esperanto!

And Valentin Donath, the winner from Germany, learned Russian and Latin as well as English and French, and picked up Estonian during his year in Estonia. He even decided to translate from Estonian into German for this competition!

But as our Maltese winner, Janice Bonnici, rightly points out, life is not all about studying and working, we need hobbies too. I noticed that many winners also have an artistic side. For instance, Lou Barra-Thibaudeau, the winner from France, who chose to study music at her secondary school, the Lycée Victor Hugo, and she is far from being the only musical one among the winners.

I am also certain that the interest in creative writing shown by Jaime Bas Domínguez from Spain and Daniela Ottová from the Czech Republic contributed to their success in the contest. You are all truly ‘Renaissance’ people, mastering a variety of disciplines, like Leonardo Da Vinci!

Your personal stories show that languages open doors, and that translation can build bridges between people and cultures. As Maria Myrianthopoulou, the winner from Cyprus, puts it, translation not only brings together different ways of thinking and writing, but entire civilisations.

Translation is not just about transferring a language — it’s also about conveying a culture and a way of thinking. We get insight into foreign cultures by reading foreign books and articles or watching films — and often the only way we can do this is thanks to translation.

Translation also makes the work of an institution like the European Commission possible as it enables people to understand what goes on in Brussels and therefore to take part in building Europe. Thanks to translation they can understand EU laws and policies that influence their daily lives — either on paper or on the many EU websites that cover these matters.

I hope these examples help to explain why professional translation is so important — and why we organise this contest. We want to raise awareness of the importance of translation for Europe and to spark interest in this profession and its different facets, be it technical or literal translation, be it subtitling or developing automated translation tools.

Maybe some of you, encouraged by this contest and tomorrow’s visit to DG Translation, will choose to pursue translation as a career, as several previous contest winners have done.

Whatever your future career choices or plans are, I hope that this trip to Brussels will give you an opportunity to make friends with fellow students from across Europe and to 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 ambassadors, telling your friends and schoolmates about your visit here. I hope you’ll tell them about the idea behind the EU — that it’s not about erasing our national identities or replacing them with some generic European identity, but about enriching all our cultures through constant exchanges with others.

I congratulate you once again on your success. Thank you for your attention and enjoy your stay in Brussels!


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