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Expanding EU desperately seeking interpreters

Brussels — The 27-nation European Union, with its 23 official languages, is facing an imminent shortage of interpreters, with English-language linguists at a premium, officials warned Thursday.

While there is a need to find interpreters and translators from the newer EU nations of eastern Europe, it is the English ‘lingua franca’ which is causing the biggest headache to the European Union’s executive.

"The European Commission faces a shortage of translators for a number of language combinations," the commission said in a statement.

"The situation is particularly worrying in the English language department because many officials who joined the commission in the seventies following the accession of the United Kingdom and Ireland are now approaching retirement age."

Brian Fox, director of the EU’s interpreting department summed up the shortage, with interpreters present, to reporters in Brussels.

"Everybody says English is everywhere but we are having real problems finding English language professionals" to interpret during official speeches and to translate written items, he said.

"Everyone speaks English and the corollary is that the English don’t feel the need to speak anything else," he complained.

EU Institutions will lose at least a third of their English language interpreters by 2015 due to retirement and about half in the next ten years.

The need for interpreters in the European Union is underlined by the figures.

Last year the service worked around 152,000 interpreter days — "that’s about 750 man years," said Cox — with an average of 750-800 interpreters, some from a freelance roster, employed each day.

In order to tackle the problem, the European Commission’s directorate-general for translation announced the launch of a campaign to attract qualified professionals to its translation operation.

"With this in mind, the English language department has already established contact with a number of educational institutions, government departments and language organisations such as the National Centre for Languages (CILT)," the commission said in a statement.

The commission will also boost its presence at careers events and job fairs, in particular across Britain and Ireland.