Plurilingual parliament, how does it work?

By Marcel Beentjes, student French language and culture

Good morning everyone! Today I am going to talk about the European Parliament. I will first give you an introduction and after that I would like to focus on the communication in this parliament. I will finish with a comparison.

So, what is the European Parliament? And what does it do? “The European Parliament is the EU’s law-making body. It is directly elected by EU voters every 5 years.”[1] It has now 705 members who are separated in 7 parties. In general, the European Parliament has three main roles: Legislative, Supervisory and Budgetary. The 20 committees in the parliament prepare the legislation and the plenary sessions are used to pass them.

The Parliament is situated in three cities: Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg. That is why there are many movements during a year between these cities, one of the things that is criticized by citizens because it is expensive and inefficient. Today we are not going to discuss this.

European Parliament explained

One of the interesting things is that in this parliament, all the countries of the European Union are represented. There are now 27 of them because the United Kingdom has left the European Union on 31st January 2020. On of the main problems when having a parliament with 27 different countries is that the parliamentarians speak many different languages and that does not help when you communicate with each other. But don’t they speak all the same language, like English or French? Unfortunately, they do not as you can see (and hear) in this video. Why is that? You can find the answer in this video.

Multilingualism in the EP

How do they solve this problem? The solution is hiring interpreters from all over the European Union. During the meetings, interpreters translate the different languages spoken by the Parliamentarians to their mother language, or any other language they speak. It happens simultaneously so that means that the translations take place live, with a short delay. That task seems to be easy, but that is not the case. Emotions and very specific content for example can still cause problems during the parliament meetings. Sometimes there is no interpreter available and, in that case, the European Parliament must rely on people who are able to translate to a (for them) foreign language. All this is showed in the next video.

Interpreters in their office

On the other hand, the technique which make this all possible it not that difficult. Each seat in the parliament is provided with an audio tool. You plug in your headset and you opt for a certain channel. Each language has its own channel so if you want, you can change from translation to translation, from language to language. Instead, you can easily speak in your own language into the microphone. Your voice is automatically transmitted to the translation rooms and in these rooms, there should be able to understand you and to make a translation in another language. Less work for the parliamentarians, much work for the interpreters. That is why there are about 1000 interpreters present during the parliamentarian meetings.

One of the biggest struggles of the parliament is to find enough interpreters. You may think that there are enough language students for example who can work in this translation business, but it is not evident. As an interpreter you must be trained, so you need to follow courses and you must do exams before you are capable of the abilities a translator need. Next, this job is not popular anymore because of the benefits and the further possibilities you have when speaking several languages (fluently). I think it is a lack of popularity and the European Parliament is for sure able to do something with it. I would like to discuss with you about it, so if you have any ideas please put them in the comments!


[1] https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-parliament_en

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1 Comment

  • Aron
    Posted November 11, 2020 at 1:54 pm 0Likes

    Very cool blog to see a bit of behind the scenes of the interpreters in the EU parliament. I think a difficulty as well is the need for a ‘native’ who speaks the other language. In my field as well there are people whom study to become an interpreter/translator for Korean-Dutch. Besides the amount of courses and precision required; after finishing they are only allowed to work within the Dutch-Korean translation field even though many of them speak perfect English. Even though I understand the issue with interpreting two languages both not native, I believe this also adds to the lack of interpreters.

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