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Language Translation of the EU's Official Languages

The European Union has several languages that are considered "official and working." Some of these are languages that are widely used as lingua francas, like French, German and English, and others are spoken on a more regional basis, such as Maltese and Lithuanian. The EU offers translations of documents for member states as needed, but budget issues mean that not every document will be automatically translated into each of the official and working languages. 

Many people in Europe are bilingual or trilingual, with a working knowledge of additional languages. However, that does not mean they will understand EU documents that are available in only a few languages. If a document is available in English, German and French, but the person who needs to read it knows Greek and Italian, that person will need to get the document translated even though it is already in three commonly spoken languages. Nor does it mean that the person would have the level of understanding needed to fully comprehend the type of language used in government and research documentation. Being able to converse in English is one thing, but being able to read legal and scientific text in English is quite another.

Translating documents from one official language of the EU to another, or to languages of countries outside the EU, allows people to gain information without having to rely second-hand on verbal summaries from colleagues. Getting information that way is essentially like playing the childhood game of ‘Telephone’, and there is a risk that something will be lost as the information is summarized again and again. Translating the document from its original language directly into others minimizes the risk that there will be a misunderstanding, or that information will be lost. 

Having a document translated from an official EU language to another language also makes the document available to a much wider audience. Not only does the official who requested the translation get to see it, but the citizens of the country in which that second language is used can also read the documents as long as the translation is made publicly accessible. This encourages transparency and gives the citizens another view of what is happening in Europe.