Category Archives: Languages

Blogguer dans une autre langue

Notre jour du blogging multilingue est là, et comme je suis encore une fois en voyage, j’ai invité mon collègue traducteur John d’écrire quelque-chose cette année. Voilà sa contribution, et vous trouverez aussi des autres contributions dans les commentaires des postes anterieurs.

I ddathlu’r Diwrnod Ewropeaidd ar gyfer Ieithoedd, rydym yn gobeithio bydd pobol o bob cwr Ewrop a thu hwnt yn cymryd rhan heddiw mewn yr ail Diwrnod Blogio Amlieithog. Fel Cymro, rhaid i mi ddechrau fy mlog i yn y Gymraeg. Ond mae’n rhaid cyfaddef nid ydywf wedi ysgrifennu llawer yn y Gymraeg esr gadael ysgol – digon o siarad wrth gwrs on dim llawer o ysgrifennu, felly ymddiheuraf nawr am unrhyw camgymeridadau. Yn ystod y deunaw blynedd diwethaf, rydw i wedi cael y cyfle i ddysgu sawl iaith yn y prifysgol a trwy fy ngwaith i fel cyfieithydd (yn gwiethio mewn i Saesneg a nid Cymraeg), ond pan roeddwn i yn byw ar y cyfandir, doedd dim teimlad yn debyg i gyrraedd adre a slipio nol mewn i’r Gymraeg a clywed yr hen iaith yn cael ei siarad o amgylch y dre. Gyda’r Cymraeg a’r Cymry mae fy nghalon wedi bod erioed.

Yo diría que mi gran aventura con el castellano comenzó cuando llegué a España por primera vez como estudiante Erasmus en los años noventa y, lamentablemente, dejé atrás a mi primera lengua extranjera, el francés. La lengua francesa llegó a ser la amante desdeñada por la que sigo sintiendo algo pero no sé exactamente qué: una mezcla de vergüenza, culpa y añoranza, por lo que fue y por lo que podría haber sido. Además, a través de mi historia con la lengua de Cervantes, Neruda, Almodóvar y Shakira, he conocido, flirteado y lo he pasado bien con el catalán y el portugués, pero siempre permanecí fiel a la lengua española, una lengua encantadora, con su jota, su erre y su zeta, tan parecidas a los sonidos de las letras ‘ch’ ‘r’ y ‘th’ en galés, pero capaces de producir palabras como juerga, corazón y zorro.

Moja relacja z językiem polskim przypomina natomiast zaaranżowane małżeństwo. Kiedy zacząłem pracować jako tłumacz w Komisji Europejskiej w kwietniu 2005, było to krótko po rozszerzeniu UE na wschód i zachęcano wszystkich tłumaczy w departamencie angielskim do uczenia się języków „nowych” krajów. Co za różnica, czy to język polski, czeski, słoweński czy węgierski? Wydawało mi się, że wszystkie są bardzo trudne. Mimo że nie potrafiłem zliczyć do pięciu, kiedy moje polskie koleżanki próbowały nauczyć mnie liczyć do dziesięciu – wymowa polska była niewiarygodnie trudna w prównaniu z językami romańskimi – za namową polskich kolegów i koleżanek, czy może raczej swatów i swatek, wybrałem polski. Moja relacja z językiem polskim to walka. Przypadki i deklinacja? To z pewnością potencjalne przyczyny rozwodu! Teraz mogę powiedzieć, że to co czuję to prawie miłość, nie wiem jednak czy to uczucie jest odwzajemnione. Język polski, podobnie jak Polki, które znam, jest bardzo wymagający! Mogę przynajmniej powiedzieć, że moja relacja z językiem polskim jest prostsza niż moja relacja z językiem litewskim – ta ostatnia to prawdziwy tragiczny romans! Ale to temat innego blogu.

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Filed under Digital/social media, EC in UK, Languages

2nd day of multilingual blogging

After we all had so much fun with it last year, who’s up for a 2nd Day of Multilingual Blogging? Again, the date would be 26 September and the idea would be to write your blog in a language you don’t usually use. For some this might mean writing it in their native language because they usually blog in another, or for those like me that are lucky to blog in their native language, we’ll write in another one. Being able to communicate in more than one language is a joy and a privilege and we should celebrate it for at least one day a year!

Sign up below if you’re interested or on the Facebook page for the event,  and spread the word on Twitter with the #babel2 hashtag.

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What about working for the EU?

I was part of an event at the Foreign Office yesterday which brought University Vice-Chancellors, department heads and career advisers together to talk to them about the EU as a potential career for their students. It was heartening, if surreal, to sit a foot or two away from William Hague as he said “the EU is vital to the UK’s interests”. This government has really thrown itself behind this issue, and as far as these things matter, the fact that the Foreign Secretary came along the day before the strategic defence review and two days before the comprehensive spending review is impressive.

We kicked off with a film of students talking about what they knew (or perhaps more accurately didn’t know) about the opportunities that exist to work for the EU.

Then Simon Fraser, the top civil servant at the FCO, who did two stints in Brussels, talked very personally about what he had got out of it.

Many of the questions in the first part focused on the teaching of foreign languages in British schools and universities, something regulars will know I write about alot. I was then asked to be one of two case studies, just an example of what working in the EU can lead you to do, where I repeated pretty much what I have said on this blog before. There was, to coin a phrase, a lot of love in the room, and I was inundated at the end by requests to come and talk to students at this or that university. There is such a thing as overexposure (!), so we’re thinking of a sort of “Back to College” scheme, where EU officials who come back to the UK every now and then make themselves available to talk at their old university, or maybe the university in their hometown. Let’s see if we can make that work.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in finding out more, check out the Foreign Office site or the EU careers site.

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Le jour est arrivé!

Finalement, on y est: la journée du blogging multilingue. Une idée qui m’est venue après une discussion sur Twitter si l’Euroblogosphere est trop anglophone. Il m’était clair que même si la plupart des Euroblogs sont écrits en Anglais, les écrivains eux-mêmes sont de plusieurs nationalités et langues maternelles: Ralf Grahn étant finlandais, Europasionaria espagnole, Julien Frisch allemand etc. Et aussi, ceux qui sont bien britanniques ou anglophone, comme moi, sont pas necessairement incapable d’écrire dans une autre langue (ou langues!).

Je suis impressionée par le succes qu’on a connu jusqu’ici, étant donné que cette initiative a été lancé un peu “bouche à l’oreille”. De ce point de vue, il s’agit aussi d’une experimentation des pouvoirs des médias sociaux.

Ich hoffe, wie können diesen Initiativ im nächsten Jahr nochmals machen, mit viel mehr Mitmachern/innen. Ohne zu “offiziel” zu werden : wir sind nach wie vor bloggers! Und ich werde versuchen zu Hause oder im Büro zu sein: ich bin im Moment in Manchester bei dem Parteiconferenz der britischen Partei der Arbeit, und ich muß alles auf ein iPad schreiben – nicht einfach, kann ich euch sagen!

Claro, lo que escribo no es perfecto. Pero es importante que communicamos. Y las lenguas son muy importante para communicar. Hablar con una persona en su lengua muestra cómo estamos abierto a las nuevas experiencias, nuevos modos de hacer, nuevas amistades!

Slechts een klein beetje op een ander taal te kunnen zeggen of schrijfen is beter als niets, denk je niet?!

*This post is part of the Day of Multilingual Blogging on 26 September, to mark the European Day of Languages.*

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Filed under European news, Languages

Est-ce qu’il faut parler les langues?

There have been a lot of pieces in the news the last few days, prompted by the GSCE results and the fact that, apart from Spanish, numbers taking GCSEs in modern languages have dropped. The Independent leader criticises the decision to scrap mandatory languages at secondary level, saying:

Making languages optional at 14 has had several consequences, each as predictable as it is regrettable. The first was to signal that an acquaintance with even one foreign language was a luxury rather than a necessity. The second was to reinforce the impression that languages were difficult, and so to be avoided, by pupils and schools concerned about scores and league tables. And the third was to encourage schools to scale down language teaching and divert resources elsewhere.

The Guardian editorial says

A suspicion that the web is more Anglosphere-wide than worldwide fuels a feeling that others are under more pressure to learn our language than we are to master theirs. Within a learn-to-earn educational philosophy, it is then a short step to deciding that our priorities should lie elsewhere. This is a dangerous line of argument, even in its own terms. If the weave of the web is working in favour of English, there is an awfully long way to go. Three in four of the world’s people speak no English, which is a lot of people to give up hope of trading with. More profoundly, to forgo familiarity with foreign languages is to forgo the chance to see the world from a foreign point of view.

which reminds me of the argument I always used at school when people asked why I was doing languages – “I can chat up 3 times as many boys as you can”. Even though the likelihood of the 15-year-old me chatting up any boy no matter what language he spoke was a near-zero, the argument seemed to hit home with my fellow 15-year-olds.

A longer piece in the Guardian goes into more detail and raises the point that even if lots of people speak English when we want to buy from them, us speaking their languages when we want to sell to them is more effective. As the article says (and the errors in the German are theirs not mine!):

It is true, says Kelly, that many Germans speak English – “but they are proud of their own language and are pleased if potential partners can make a gesture towards it. And it’s easier to buy things in English than to sell them.” He quotes Willy Brandt: “If I’m selling I’m happy to speak to you in English. But if I’m buying dann müssen sie deutsche sprechen.” The impact on British exports is obvious.

What none of these articles pick up on is that language is a serious industry in its own right for the EU in general and for the UK. A recent report commissioned by the Commission estimated the size of the language industry at €8.4b in 2008, set to grow to €16.5b in 2015. For the UK the report estimated that

the total turnover of the translation and interpretation market … is therefore estimated between €290m and €434m

There is money to be made here and that money will not be going to UK citizens if we neglect our language learning. A study by Cardiff Business School suggests that the UK economy is losing business because of our poor language skills – estimated in 2007 by the same professor to be €9b.

That’s all before we get into issues of EU staffing, mentioned in the Guardian article. The FCO are focusing on this, in the wake of Hague’s speech about it (which I can’t find a link to at the moment). The UK is certainly under-represented in the EU institutions. Now, of course, the Commission is charged to have the European interest at its core, and so there is no question of ploughing a national furrow when you are there. But undoubtedly where you come from informs your approach. When I joined, I assumed there would be this wonderful melding of cultures into a European administrative culture. Wrong – the European Commission is lots of people with very different ways of doing things getting along together and making it work. So having UK people in the mix is important. But if you don’t speak languages, you won’t get in. Even if the entry requirements as they currently stand discriminate slightly against native English, French and German speakers*, the sad fact is that the biggest barrier to entry for most Brits is the language requirement. The other problem is that if anyone learns languages in the UK, they tend to be linguists, whereas what the Commission also needs are agronomists and vets and engineers and computer technicians who speak languages. So I applaud the UK government for trying to encourage more applications, and I have already told them that I and this office will do what we can to help, but at the same time, this language issue needs to be tackled in the broader sense if they are to succeed.

* the entry exams have to be sat in EN, FR or DE, and not in your first language. So if you are an English speaker with fluent Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, you will not be able to take the exam (or at least not have any decent chance of passing). This is true for French and German speakers too, but as most of them will probably have English as at least one of their languages, it is less obviously a problem.

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Bloggez-vous?

Bloggingportal.eu have picked up and will support the idea of a multilingual day of blogging on 26 September, to mark the European Day of Languages. I met with someone today who got very excited about the event and will try to get someone pretty senior on board for it, which would be great. My language colleagues will be promoting it in their general EDL work, and I will use our Facebook and Twitter networks to try to get more people on board. Do let me know if you are hoping to take part by leaving a comment below or contacting me via the contact page, and I’ll try to get a list up. First milestone – 100 people signing up to it by end August! And can anyone think of a good hashtag? #langblog? #edl2010?

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Working in languages

One of the things that attracts most of us to working for the EU is the possibility of using the languages we have studied hard to acquire. In this office we do a lot of work to make people aware of the opportunities that come with speaking languages, not just working for the EU, but in many other ways. Languages do open doors. Two of my colleagues took part in a live q&a on the careers guardian website last week looking at the possibilities of language careers.

I was putting this up on Twitter and thought, maybe I should be writing about this in another language. So I’m going to start an idea to have anyone who blogs about EU issues writing a post in another language on the European Day of Languages, 26 September. Who is in with me?

[This is a post that got caught in my draft folder, so the idea won’t be new to some of you]

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Talking my language

We hosted an event here today on language careers in the EU. In the first instance it was an opportunity to show the new clip done by the translation department showing what working as an EU translator is about.

Three of us made brief presentations about the EU recruitment process, working as a conference interpreter and a lawyer-linguist and then we threw the floor open to questions.

We had quite a mixed group of people – careers staff, students, recent graduates, freelance translator, even barristers – and the questions were pretty wide-ranging as well, though of course mainly focused on the recruitment procedure. The issue of how to get into working as a freelance translator for the Commission also came up quite a bit.

The main message from our side was that if you are British and have a talent for languages, this is the perfect time to consider this career path. English is a pivotal language in the Commission as, like it or not, it is the default working language for most of the organisation. As letters, proposals, legislation etc come in from all the different Member States, they need to be translated into English so the Commission can work with them. Brits are currently under-represented in the EU institutions, including the Commission, so there is a real need for good British candidates. And the final element is that a significant number of the existing English translators are due to retire in the next few years. So just as English is more in demand than ever, it is facing a recruitment crisis. So if you apply and get through, there is little chance of languishing on the reserve list, unless you want to!

So if you have a degree, a talent for languages, and an interest in working in the EU, give it a go! The translator recruitment will be announced on 13 July, and you can get details from eu-careers.eu, via the EU Careers facebook page or following @EU_Careers on Twitter (though I do retweet most of their important announcements)

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Working for a living

This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.

Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!

So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:

1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.

2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.

3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.

4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…

5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.

I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.

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Filed under Coming Week, EC in UK, EU Careers, Languages, Personal, Youth