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European Union’s policy for web translation

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There is no doubt about it: people prefer reading in their own language. The Commission’s Communication DG has repeated many times that the multiplicity of languages presents a real challenge for the creation of what they term a “European public sphere”, that is, a situation where European citizens from different parts of the continent dialogue with each other, follow news from other European countries with an interest close to what they feel towards their own country, and liaise with fellow Europeans in general.

All the Commission’s multilingual communication efforts should be seen against this background: they aim to enable Europeans to live in a truly European information landscape, at least as far as institutional information is concerned.

Multilingual web communication is an essential part of Commission communication. One of the first claims of the new communication policy developed since 2005 was to talk “in a language citizens can understand”. The evolution of Commission communication policy has inevitably influenced DGT’s tasks, even though the use of languages does not receive a great deal of attention in the main communication policy documents.

In recent years, the Commission has produced three communication policy papers with a clear connection to web translation:

  • White paper on a European communication policy, COM(2006) 35
    The White paper points out that Europe suffers from the lack of a common “public sphere”, with national media focusing on national news, and that language barriers are the main reason for this. The EUROPA website, however multilingual, cannot alone solve the problem.
  • Communicating Europe in partnership, COM(2007) 568
    This document highlights the right of European citizens to participate in democratic life. Concerning the use of languages on EUROPA, the document states: “In a situation of limited resources, trade-offs between increasing the amount of information published and broadening the audience appear inevitable, and will require a coherent approach.”
  • Communicating about Europe via the Internet (“the Internet Strategy”), SEC(2007)1742
    Following the approach set out in the previous document, this paper states that EUROPA pages “will be translated in line with the Commission’s communication priorities and the selection of languages at each site requires a coherent approach linked to the intended target audience”. This paper recommends that this should be explained on EUROPA sites in a language policy statement.

The 2007 Internet Strategy also stresses the interactive nature of the Internet and the active habits of its users. In order to attract more visitors, EUROPA could, and probably will, offer interactive possibilities and aim to communicate with the widest range of people.

The Commission’s Corporate Communication Statement of March 2009 does not elaborate on the translation issue, but briefly states that “the Commission’s information and communication policy is based on transparency, accessibility, inclusiveness, multilingualism and cultural diversity”, and that the Commission reaches out to Europe’s citizens seeking, among other objectives, to communicate with them by addressing them in the official languages.

Along the lines of these documents, two main questions arise in the web translation field:

  1. As we can’t translate everything into all languages, how to manage the trade-off between the amount of content and the number of languages?
  2. Which interactive solutions can EUROPA use multilingually to attract web users? For instance, how to organise discussion forums in a multilingual website?

A third very relevant question reflected upon by web translators is

  1. How to write, in each particular language, in a way which attracts readers to EUROPA and is credible in the eyes of readers? What are the ideal ways to take into account the culture linked to each language?

At a Commission press conference to launch the multilingual Presseurop portal (http://www.presseurop.eu/) on 25 May 2009, it was claimed that the question of translations has stopped many good projects for creating a European public space. The wording was unintentionally tendentious – after all, translations do not stop projects but enable them, although not always at the speed hoped for; and it is a fundamental characteristic of the European population, namely our linguistic diversity, that makes these translations necessary. The European public space needs translations, and DGT efforts play a part in creating that space.

However important, the linguistic quality of a website is only a part of the solution for reaching web users. Quoting Sissel Marie Rike: ” A website should be seen in a holistic perspective where organization, graphics, colours, symbols etc are individual elements integrated in the message and constitute parts of the rhetorics used.

© European Union

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