Europe Day

May 9, 2016 8:34 am

flagOn 9th May we celebrate a very special event for us: Europe Day. On this day in 1950 Robert Schuman, former French foreign minister, presented a declaration in which he proposed the unification of some European nations so that wars in Europe become “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was then the first institution to be created of a group we know today as the European Union (EU).

The founding members were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. Six nations where people spoke French, German, Italian, Dutch, Flemish, and Luxembourgish. That is six nations with linguistic and cultural differences to be overcome in order to achieve common goals through cooperation. The Schuman Declaration was originally written in French (Déclaration Schuman) and English, even if none of the founding members were an English-speaking country. Indeed, there was not any official language at that time.

It was in 1958 when Dutch, French, German, and Italian were established as official languages, and since then this number has been growing as every time a new member joins the European Union its official language becomes an official language for the EU. Nowadays the EU is made up of 28 members and has 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish, meaning that the EU uses three different alphabets: Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic. Besides, the EU occasionally works with other languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.

Official EU languages since:

– 1958: Dutch, French, German, Italian.

– 1973: Danish, English.

– 1981: Greek.

– 1986: Portuguese, Spanish.

– 1995: Finnish, Swedish.

– 2004: Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian,

Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovene.

– 2007: Bulgarian, Irish, Romanian.

– 2013: Croatian.


In Luxembourg, Towers A and B, along with the Schuman building, are home to the different language units of the European Parliament. Those buildings usually receive the nickname of Towers of Babel.

It might appear difficult to work with such a big number of languages. Indeed it is: working with 24 languages means 552 linguistic combinations, as citizens of the EU have the right to communicate in their language. The different language versions of documents are actually not considered as translations, but as “equally valid and authentic” originals (Lönnroth). However, it is not always possible to translate directly from one of these languages into another. In such a case, EP translators use the relay (pivot) method, which means that the document is translated into a relay language (e.g. English, French and German, from which it is then translated into the other official languages. For example, it might be difficult to translate directly from Danish into Maltese; then the Maltese translation may be made based on the English translation of the Danish text. It also happens in the booth, where we can find three interpreters per target language, even if some interpreters may work from and into a lesser-used language (retour method). Even if the most used language in the EU is English, followed by French and German, in 2015 professionals in the European Commission translated over 1.9 million pages (73% in-house).


The seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg is also inspired by the Tower of Bebel topic.

Nevertheless, the linguistic team of the European Union is not only made up of translators and interpreters. The group also includes terminologists and editors. Editors work with documents written in English and proofread texts written by both non-native and native speakers, as linguistic quality is very important. With regard to terminology, the Terminology Coordination Unit (TermCoord) was born in 2008. TermCoord was created to deal with terminology issues and manage the InterActive Terminology for Europe (IATE) database in the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Parliament. IATE, officially released in 2004, was created in order to contribute to the terminology consistency which is a key factor for successful communication. Since the beginnings of the EU, every language unit used to have its own terminology resources which started to be merged into IATE in 1999, including now terms in the 24 official languages classified by domains. Therefore IATE has proved to be a great tool for translators, interpreters and linguists in general, not only inside the EU, but also for those who work for other institutions or as freelancers.

TermCoord offers a website where language professionals can find many interesting resources, such as European and general glossaries, as well as a special link collection for EU Interinstitutional Document Search: DocHound, among other linguistic material and information. In addition to this, TermCoord is working on the development of an app in order to make terminology searches easier wherever users are, so IATE will be even more accessible. Terminologists in the central coordination and in the different language units work together in order to provide the relevant terminology in IATE in all official languages. TermCoord connects the units of the 24 official languages in order to clarify misunderstandings and avoid inconsistency as regards terminology.

These are just some linguistic facts about the European Union, where translation becomes the language of Europe, as Italian writer and linguist Umberto Eco once said. We all are part of it, and if you want to see it from the first row, just take a look at these links:

– EPSO website: Careers with the European Union.

Traineeships in the European Parliament (e.g. in Translation or in Terminology).


Written by Ana Bennasar

Terminology trainee at TermCoord

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