Teaching others to speak the EU's language

  • 2002-09-26
  • Aleksei Gunter

As Estonia moves toward joining the European Union, universities are scrambling to train a future corps of translators and interpreters.

The EU has announced that by 2004, more than 80,000 pages of official laws and resolutions must be translated into the official languages of all candidate countries.

About 100 translators will be required to translate the full version of the acquis communautaire, the body of all EU laws, into Estonian.

And according to Estonia's EU integration bureau, the country will need about 80 interpreters and 200 translators immediately after joining, which the country hopes to do in 2004.

To meet the need, Tartu University has launched aggressive studies in translation and interpreting that focus on law, economics, and science and technology.

The program also pushes German and French proficiency in addition to the more widely-spoken English in order to cope with documents in those languages and to prepare Estonian diplomats for work in EU institutions.

The languages of all EU member countries are considered official EU languages, and the block employs a veritable army of translators and interpreters that do everything from translating documents to interpreting at sessions of the European Parliament and European Commission.

"Our program for translators and interpreters was designed, among other things, to prepare specialists for the European Union," said Krista Vogelberg, head of the English philology department at Tartu University.

Merje Liiv, head of the Interpreter and Translator Training Center in Tallinn, said the country had enough properly trained interpreters to meet the government's needs but was woefully unprepared for the EU.

As of September, the center could boast 24 Estonian interpreters who had passed the necessary tests to work at the EU level.

"Before we opened there was no other place to get master's degree (in translation and interpreter's work) in Tallinn," she said. "The demand has grown and it will grow more."

Today, 30 postgraduate students are taking the two year program at the center.

Liiv said interpretation at the EU level required not only proficiency in foreign languages but also perfect command of Estonian, a requirement even most native Estonians could not meet without proper training.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hun-gary, Poland, Slovenia and Malta are all candidates for EU membership.

Cyprus is also a candidate, but its inhabitants speak Greek, already an official language of the EU.