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Interview with Inkaliisa Vihonen, European Commission Directorate General for Translation

Inkaliisa Vihonen discusses the work of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Translation, including its new project to develop a language industry web platform. The platform is intended to increase the visibility and recognition given to the language industry.

Location: Brussels, Belgium

Website: ec.europa.eu/language-industry

Website: ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/index_en.htm

Could you tell us about the work and general goals of the Directorate-General for Translation (DGT)?

DGT is the European Commission's in-house translation service and one of the biggest public translation services in the world. Its political goal is to contribute to the implementation of the policy of multilingualism in different forums and at different levels within the European Union. DGT offers high quality translations into and from the 23 official languages of the EU. The aim of these translation efforts is to bring European institutions closer to European citizens and to ensure that the latter have access to information on European policies. DGT contributes to the definition of multilingualism policy and develops actions and activities. This is done in order to raise awareness about policy issues and to enhance the translator profession. DGT cooperates with both EU bodies and external stakeholders in order to raise the status and visibility of the profession, to disseminate best practices, to steer training in directions that reflect the needs of the market, and to improve the employability of future translators. In sum, DGT’s mission is to support the profession in facing the challenges presently raised by technological innovations and market evolutions.

What was the impetus for launching the European Commission’s language industry web platform?

The idea of developing and launching the web platform grew out of a study on the size of the EU language industry, published by the European Commission in November 2008. The encouraging finding of the study—that the language industry accounted for about 8.6 million Euros per year and was expected to continue to grow steadily, at a rate of about 10% per year—suggested that the language industry has considerable resilience in the face of the economic crisis. On the other hand, the study also revealed that the language industry, in spite of its vitality and weight, is still largely unrecognized. It suffers from lack of visibility, and statistical data and information are not easy to find.

Hence it became apparent that there was a need for a tool which could gather information relevant to the translation industry and which could make that information available on a European level. Such a tool would promote synergies and exchanges among language professionals, and raise awareness about the output and potential of this sector. In the long run, this instrument should enable us to have enough data to modify the international statistical classification system (NACE) so that the language industry is fully recognized as an industrial sector per se. With the NACE classification system taking our industry into account, industry policy measures can be better implemented.

Given your position as a Policy Officer for the Directorate General for Translation (DGT) at the European Commission, what do you see as your role in the larger translation community? What do you view as the function of the DGT in the translation world?

I believe that DGT, given its key institutional and political position, has great responsibility vis-à-vis the translation community. The organization also has great potential which should be reached to the fullest. DGT is not merely an operational service providing high quality translations: it also has an important strategic and political role to play both within and outside of European institutions.

Within European institutions DGT promotes and disseminates best practices, raises awareness about the linguistic implications of all European policies, and works to integrate the linguistic dimension of all EU policies. Beyond the EU and Europe, DGT can act as a powerful catalyst and as a point of reference for the whole translation community. It can apply vital skills and competencies to addressing and channelling political and technological issues, promoting and disseminating best practices, and bringing together stakeholders and professionals. As these individuals discuss and pool together experience and know-how—through collaboration facilitated by DGT—they can raise the quality and efficiency of their work.

Last but not least, as I have already mentioned, DGT plays an important role in the training of future translators: it works together with the best universities in order to ensure that translation curricula are optimally adapted to meet the current and foreseeable needs of the market. This adaptability raises the employability of future translators.

What is the primary goal of the web platform?

The primary goal of the platform is to offer an interactive web service through which all players in the language industry can find and share materials and data relevant to their work, while also contributing by adding their documents or taking part in surveys available on the platform. (The first survey on market trends should be out in the coming weeks.) Through the platform we aim to collect and make available data and information in order to enhance the visibility of the language industry, to improve its efficiency, to anticipate new trends, and to help all professionals raise the quality and effectiveness of their work. In the long run, the aim is to brand the language industry so that it can get the visibility it deserves and can produce reliable data on the industry as a whole.

How will the information gathered through the web platform serve the professional translation community?

Communicating a positive message about the importance of the translation industry will serve both the translation community and the language industry in general. You cannot give proper recognition to something that you do not acknowledge. By proving that the industry exists and is doing well, the community will strengthen its position at the heart of today's multilingual and multicultural world. The project is also about the future of the translation community: in order to stay viable, we must be able to attract competent people to it. Universities have already expressed their interest in using the platform as a source for academic work. This will certainly increase the interest of students in an industry that can offer jobs despite the recent economic downturn.

What are the functions of the web platform?

The platform houses a document repository through which you can search and upload documents. It also launches surveys on regular intervals. The first survey on market trends should be out in the coming weeks. In addition, there is a news section in which news and documents can be highlighted.

Who can contribute to the platform, and how may they do so?

Anybody can contribute with good quality documents on the industry. Follow the simple instructions on the page and send in your contributions. In case of doubt, you can send your documents to us by e-mail via DGT-LANG-IND@ec.europa.eu. We also answer any queries concerning the site from this same address.

Once a significant amount of data has been collected through the platform, how do you intend to use the gathered information? Do you have future plans or next steps for the project?

Everything added to the platform is put into the use of the community as soon as it is published (including our own publications and reports). The utility of the materials will be defined by how much they are used. In the long run, they will serve in giving an identity and definition to this versatile industry. At that point, we will be much closer to our bigger dream: a statistical entry for the language industry in Eurostat (the statistical office of the European Union), as well as for world-wide data on the industry’s status.

Beyond this endeavor, do you have any hopes for projects or initiatives related to the translation industry in which you or the EU might participate in the foreseeable future?

Yes, in one of our latest studies, called "Multilingual Business Practices," two concrete recommendations were presented by the authors: to set up an observatory of multilingual practices in businesses, and to create a European label for the best multilingual websites. We are currently analyzing the feasibility of these recommendations.

Does this project present any particular challenges? If so, what are they, and how are you responding to them?

Knowledge sharing is a buzzword of our times. Although most of us agree that knowledge sharing serves the community at large, making the sharing process a reality requires an extra effort. In our busy daily lives this is not often easy, but it still pays off. The challenge is to turn the existing good-will into action. I believe this is best done by contacting people directly, talking to them, going to conferences, such as GALA Lisbon, and networking. Once the commitment is there, the project will reach all of its potential.