Which languages are in use in the Parliament?
There are 24 EU official languages. Supporting communications in so many languages means that citizens can access and better understand the EU laws that affect them. Citizens can interact with the EU institutions by, for example, submitting petitions or requesting information in any of the official languages and they can follow debates in the Parliament via live web streaming.
However, it is also important for MEPs to be able to speak, listen, read and write in their own language and, in fact, in any of the EU's official languages. This is 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 a foreign language. MEPs are elected to represent the interests of the citizens voting for them and not on the basis of their knowledge of foreign languages. Additionally, to guarantee the same working conditions for all MEPs, they must have full access to information in their respective languages. MEP speeches in one official language are simultaneously interpreted into other official languages and official texts are translated into all 24 languages. In order for EU legislation to be directly applied or transposed into national legislation it must first be translated into the EU official language of each Member State. Citizens can request and receive information in any of the official 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 has not as such resulted 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 this challenge, the 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. European Parliament interpreters are trained in relaying the messages of the MEPs for them. Moreover, given the specialisation of parliamentary debates, they are supported by the administration in preparing the specific meetings they are assigned to, and in keeping abreast of developments in the languages they work from. As skilled linguists, they provide a high quality service to all MEPs.
Translators are also involved in other linguistic mediation tasks, such as adapting texts for podcasts, subtitling and audio recording in 24 languages.
The Parliament employs about 270 staff interpreters and can also regularly draw on a pool of more than 1,500 external accredited interpreters. Between 700 and 900 interpreters are on hand for plenary session weeks. The Parliament employs about 600 translators, and about 30 % of the translation work is outsourced to freelance translators.