Which languages are in use in the Parliament?
The EU has 24 official languages. An obvious reason is that all EU citizens should have the possibility to read laws or other EU documents that concern them in their own language and to follow debates in their own language. But it is also important that MEPs have the possibility to speak, listen, read and write in their own language and, in fact, in any of the EU's official languages. Because it is a fundamental democratic principle that every EU citizen can become a Member of the European Parliament, even if he or she does not speak one of its working languages (English, French). Any citizen who becomes a Member of the European Parliament must be able to perform his or her duties without a special knowledge of foreign languages. And to guarantee the same working conditions for all MEPs, they must have full access to information in their respective languages. MEPs' speeches in one official language are simultaneously interpreted into other official languages. And official texts are translated into all 24 languages.
The accession of Croatia on 1 July 2013, brought the total number of official languages to 24: Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
The departure of the United Kingdom from the EU will not as such result in the abolition of English as an official language. All EU governments would need to decide on that unanimously and as English is also an official language in Ireland and Malta, that possibility seems remote.
The work of an interpreter or translator
In general, each interpreter and translator works in his/her mother tongue. With 24 official languages, there are 552 possible language combinations. In order to cope with those, Parliament sometimes uses a system of "relay" languages: a speaker or a text is first interpreted or translated into one of the most widely used languages (English, French or German), and then into others.
Interpreting and translating are different professions: interpreters render one language into another orally in real time during meetings; translators work with written documents, producing a completely accurate version of the document in the target language.
The Parliament employs about 300 staff interpreters and can also regularly draw on more than 1,500 external accredited interpreters. Between 700 and 900 interpreters are on hand for plenary session weeks. The Parliament employs about 700 translators, who translate more than 100,000 pages each month.
In 2013, Parliament spent approximately a fourth of its total budget on multilingualism.