Brussels puts out English mayday
The British are so bad at foreign languages that the European commission has had to recruit linguists from Spain and Greece to translate documents into English.
Internal commission memos show the standard of Britons who apply to be European Union translators is so dismal that Brussels is taking emergency steps to fill the linguistic gap, including posting recruitment ads on YouTube, the video-sharing website.
While other countries have pass rates regularly nearing 100% of those who take EU translation tests, as few as 20% of British applicants pass.
Brussels rules state that translators into English should have the language as their mother tongue. British standards are so poor, though, that the EU has taken emergency measures.
Potential recruits are being given remedial coaching to bring their abilities up to standard, while a Eurocrat has been dispatched to scour Britain full-time for anyone who can speak foreign languages well, and to encourage schoolchildren to study them.
The gap has led to countries such as Spain and Greece setting up special units to translate into English, and other countries such as Poland are expected to follow suit.
A memo to a director in the the European commission’s English translation department warns that the forthcoming recruitment competition, which should produce 70 new translators, is expected to yield only 17. It reads: “We do not really expect the targets will be met fully.”
British schoolchildren’s interest in foreign languages has long been waning. Brussels insiders say the government’s 2004 decision to let children drop GCSE languages worsens matters.
Marco Benedetti, director general of interpretation at the commission, said: “The shortage of English translators and interpreters is becoming acute in all international organisations.”
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said an increasing number of primary schoolchildren are studying languages.