Karl-Johan (JUHANI) Lönnroth (Left), Director General of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission, gives an interview to China.org.cn on August 5,2008 in Shanghai, China. [China.org.cn]
Karl-Johan (JUHANI) Lönnroth, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission, gives an interview to China.org.cn on August 5,2008 in Shanghai, China. [China.org.cn]
The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation is one of the largest translation services in the world. It has a permanent staff of some 1,750 linguists and 600 support staff, and uses freelance translators from many different countries. Karl-Johan (JUHANI) Lönnroth is the Director General of the DGT of the European Commission. In an interview with China.org.cn, Karl-Johan Lönnroth talked about how his office promotes the translation industry in European countries as well as how it facilitates new computer technologies. The Director-General also shared his expectation for cooperation with China in future translation work.
China.org.cn: Welcome to China Talk. I’m Wang Ke. Shanghai is holding the 18th World Congress of the International Federation of Translators (FIT). Distinguished interpreters and translators are gathering here from all over the world. Today we are honored to invite Director of Translation for the European Commission Karl-Johan (JUHANI) LÖNNROTH, to “China Talk.” Welcome.
JUHANI Lonnroth: Thank you very much
China.org.cn: You are the director of DGT, would you like firstly to intro your department to our audiences and what’s its function in the European Union?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well I work in the European Commission which is the executive organization of the European Union. In other words the commission presents, as it were, all the initial and all the propositions for legislation which concerns citizens. My directorate-general is actually the largest directorate-general of the whole commission. But it is also said to be the largest public translation service in the world. We have 2,500 staff and we translate about 2 million pages per year for the benefit of the European Union’s enterprises, citizens, and EU’s member states.
China.org.cn: That’s a really big staff.
JUHANI Lonnroth: It’s a big operation and we work in 23 languages. When we started 50 years ago – we had the 50th anniversary – we had only four languages and 24 people who helped us with the translation. Now we are grown about 100 times what we used to be.
China.org.cn: Your department developed so fast. The European Union has many member countries, as you mentioned, using more than 23 languages. Would you like to introduce the current situation for translators in the European Union?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well, what we actually do is we are helping the citizens or helping the commission to interact with citizens of Europe and the European Union member states. they have all brought in when they became members their official language and this is why in order to enable the citizens to understand what the decisions are which concern them we have to translate all these legal acts into their own language, otherwise the European Union would not be legitimate in the minds of the citizens; It would be too complicated for the citizens.
China.org.cn: In other words, one document has to be translated into 23 languages? 23 versions?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Yes, this is true. No legal act in the European Union actually enters into force. It will not be applicable to any of the citizens unless it has been translated into all of these 23 languages.
China.org.cn: This year marks the international year of language, named by the UN and also the EU year of intercultural dialogue. How does your department promote innovation and communication between citizens and institutions and also boast the language industry in the EU?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well because of this multitude of languages, the language industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It grows at the pace of about 7.5 percent per year so the very fact that we have multilingualism as our policy already gives a boost to the language industry. But we have many programs to develop the language industry, too. For instance, we have invested about 60 million Euros – which is about 600 million Chinese yuan – over the past 20 to 30 years on machine translation.
China.org.cn: It is a really developing market.
JUHANI Lonnroth: It is a very quickly developing market, so we contribute to the development of technology. Beyond that, we have a lot of programs for language learning. And that as such gives a boost to the innovation of training of these various languages and promotes cultural diversity.
China.org.cn: Talking about the technology – the computerized technologies –they can be dated back to the early1980s. What happened when they started to be used in the EU? And what kind of influence has the computer technology had on the translation industry – especially in the EU?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well it has had a major impact. If you compared the translations and the translation profession between say 1970 – 30 years ago – with the current situation, when translator had one paper and then another paper and he transposed the text from that paper to another language and, doing it by hand or using a secretary to dictate, and now when almost all translation is being done through computer technology, we have translation memories – huge repositories of previously translated text – which can be used or reused in the translation. However if you looked at the translator’s productivity, you can say that a very skillful translator translates say, four-and-a-half pages per day of a complicated legal text. This was the case also 10 years ago – or 15 years ago –so the new technology has actually helped us to standstill. We are riding faster in order to stand still because the texts we are translating become more and more complex and more and more difficult. So the new technology helps us translate as many pages now as we did ten or fifteen years ago. Had we not had the technology, we would translate less.
China.org.cn: Some people may say translation tools simplify translation. So what do you think?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well they do, in a sense. Translators can also get a lot of assistance. Not only that, it’s not only a question of simplifying – it’s a question of quality. If the texts are more and more complicated, there are more and more risks that there are mistakes and the same terms are not used consistently across the various versions or various initiations. And therefore, the new technology helps the translator to maintain the quality and concordance and coherence between the various legal acts. This is also good for the citizens because their own rights and obligations are easier to implement if the texts are coherent.
The translation sector is a global market involving computerized tools, international competitions, and multi-national provision chains. And so the standardization is a response to the operating environment.
China.org.cn: Could you introduce the standardization situation in the EU?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well standards are actually very important for us in two ways. I think we need to use the freelance market in the best way, we need to know the quality and capacity of the freelance companies who help us with the translation. So having some clear standards – which are being developed, by the way, in Europe and globally, too – having clear standards of how to select and rate these companies is very useful for the quality of the translation.
China.org.cn: But how do you make such a standard?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well in the EU context we have just had an EU standard for getting a quality label for the freelance translators. This is not something that we have developed. This has been developed independent from EU, but we find it useful because those standards define what is a good translation – comparing what is the main requirement for these companies; do they have to have, for instance, revision capacity, accountability; and do they have to have some internal training? That is very useful for us in order to rate them, but beyond that I think it is important for us to improve the standardization of the program itself. And therefore, we are developing communication curriculum and skill requirements so we can also compare what kind of staff we recruit. What is really a translator supposed to be, supposed to know? We are in the EU context developing the European master of translation. Previously anybody can just say that if I know English or French or Romanian or so, I can be a translator but …
China.org.cn: Now they take the exam?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Yes. This is why we try to standardize the exam. So we know what is the output of the university – what kind of skills can we expect when we recruit people? So standard in that sense is very useful for us.
China.org.cn: In this aspect, what do you think China can learn from you?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well, I am not here to give advice; We just heard Chinese language exists in written form for 3,000 years, so I am not here to give advice! But I think that there are lots of issues where we can actually collaborate. One of these is the use, precisely, of the new technology: How can the computer-assisted translator be introduced or developed also in China? I think we have a story to tell from the EU side. We have a story to tell, also, in terms of developing and serving the regional languages. We know that in China there are many, many, many dozens of regional languages. I think it’s very important for the population to participate in decision-making, and in Europe we are trying to develop that. We have some examples of how to deal with this complex situation of foreign languages and cultural identities. How do we address that through the language learning and also translation activity? And finally, I think what we can show is how do we organize our work in this complex situation of 23 languages. 23 languages mean 506 combinations of languages. And that is a very complicated affair. There, also, I think we have a story to tell.
China.org.cn: So, can you give us some introductions on the translation studies in European universities?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well there are many European universities who have a program for translation studies. I think the problem here is that we need to develop much closer cooperation with the universities because the universities otherwise tend to have their own agenda, have their own ideas of what is important. Sometimes we feel that what the universities are researching and studying, are not all that helpful because there is a lot of theory. So we are actually developing a research program of our own in my Directorate-General. But beyond that we are developing some lists or some requests for the universities what we would consider to be important. One area which is of huge importance is this artificial intelligence: voice recognition, machine translation, how to promote better interaction between the man and the machine. Those are areas which we are very keen on developing together with the universities.
China.org.cn: Do you have some plans to promote cooperation between these universities and Chinese universities?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well of course the universities in Europe are autonomous; We can hardly force them or, let’s say, make the collaboration obligatory. I think this has to develop quite organically, this cooperation. But on the other side, we have great interest in collaboration between the EU institutions and the academic and the public world in China or in Asia. There, for instance, I would say China and Asia, despite the television and internet, is not very well known. And therefore it is sometimes very difficult to translate correctly documents from Chinese into the European languages – because the background is not well understood. Therefore mutual exchanges and learning and organizing seminars to develop new forms of databases – terminology databanks – those are areas where we could collaborate very fruitfully with China.
China.org.cn: So we should bring your universities and the Chinese universities together?
JUHANI Lonnroth: That is absolutely true.
China.org.cn: The EU is expanding, and it may be that your department has to recruit more translators. How do you face the challenge?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well it is sometimes very difficult. We have actually, over the last four years, increased the number of languages from eleven to 23 and we have recruited about 1000 new staff. This is not easy because sometimes the universities do not furnish sufficient number of candidates, nor sufficient quality candidates, so we have out of our own interest developed this European Master of Translation Program, which would help university to train better translators. We will, of course, face tremendous cost constraints. But I think that the policy of multi-lingualism and the price of multi-lingualism are so important in Europe that with every new member state, there will be a new language. And with a new language, there will be some resources for serving that particular language. So we’ll continue to expand.
China.org.cn: But statistics show that the budget of DGT is on the rise. So does it mean the finance is a top concern of your department already?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well I would say that, of course, all public institutions – they are the subject of great budgetary scrutiny. The taxpayer’s money is not easily spent. However I would rather speak about cost efficiency. And I think that my biggest challenge is how to ensure a high quality translation despite the cost constraints. How do I do that? I do that through better work organization, through improving skills, developing through better use of new technology and higher levels of productivity. So I would consider that cost is a continuing problem, but the key problem is really how to ensure the best quality irrespective of the cost constraints.
China.org.cn: This is the first FIT world congress held in Asia and also first for China. What do you think this great event has brought to China and China’s translation industry?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well I think, first of all, it is a magnificent opportunity to get exposure and give also the Chinese reality a better transparency in Europe. I mentioned that we are not very well informed of what’s going on in China, irrespective of all the communication possibilities that exist. So this gives a huge exposure for China to the western world. And beyond that you know we can develop a better understanding of how you work and what are your needs in order to develop further collaboration.
China.org.cn: It not only provides a platform for China to show itself, but also provides an opportunity that brings so many countries together to cooperate with each other.
JUHANI Lonnroth: That is true. I mean, this conference gathers about 1,500 delegates. This is the biggest ever event in the translation field and I think one could say that everyone who has some importance in the language arena is here, so this is a great opportunity for networking and for creating contacts with others. We are also here to learn. We, the commission, also get new contacts, new ideas, perhaps even new agreements between the various stakeholders. So for us it is certainly equally useful as for China.
China.org.cn: What expectations do you have for this session?
JUHANI Lonnroth: Well, for me, it is particularly important to discuss with academics. It’s particularly important to discuss with our stakeholders. I think it is, for me, this kind of event is an occasion to give a boost to the profession. The translators are not very well known for bringing their own job – their own task, their own profession – up to the forefront. This is an occasion to do it. And I think that we have here an opportunity to be together or to discuss together how to do it, so that we will be better respected as a profession. We are a profession of high intellectual capacity. The translators are highly intelligent and educated people. But they are often considered as the last, let’s say, last part of a chain of producing documents. And we would like to change that. This kind of conference is an occasion to do that.
China.org.cn: Thank you.
JUHANI Lonnroth: Xie xie.