“In a multilingual environment, translation is key to enabling broader access to European content.” So stated the Work Plan for Culture 2019–2022, a strategic framework adopted in 2018 by the Council of the European Union.
However, according to a recent report, “the profession of translation for the creative and culture sectors has become unattractive due to poor working conditions, low remuneration and precarious status, as well as a lack of recognition and visibility.”
The report, called Translators on the Cover, was published by the EU Expert Group on Multilingualism and Translation, a body organized by the Council of the European Union. And despite the report’s particular focus on literary translation, it also includes recommendations for the audiovisual and theater sectors.
The EU Council explained the rationale behind organizing the group thusly: “If the EU’s motto ‘united in diversity’ is to have any real meaning, the people promoting our unity through their work should receive the recognition and support they need to be able to do their work and stay in the profession.”
The EU Expert Group — comprising publishers, literary translators, and experts from public funding agencies and national ministries of culture — has, therefore, been mandated to assess current support mechanisms for translation and provide specific recommendations.
Aside from providing recommendations on working conditions, remuneration, and professional development, the report also goes into how public funding can help increase the circulation of translated books.
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The report recommends making a career in translation more attractive by providing translators more training opportunities, promoting professional associations, as well as improving remuneration and working conditions through opportunities offered by the Digital Single Market (DSM) Directive. As previously reported, the DSM forms one of the main strategic goals of the EU.
The report further recommends that the DSM be transposed into law in all EU Member States — especially since translation contracts do not always comply with copyright law — to improve the situation in terms of good practice, fair remuneration, and transparency.
Moreover, translators need more visibility and better recognition to overcome certain issues arising from anonymity. To that end, creating and keeping up-to-date databases of translators, as well as acknowledging and promoting translators as “crucial mediators and ambassadors between cultures and languages” is important.
Last but not least, actions need to be taken to promote greater diversity and inclusion within the sector.
More Public Funding
For publishers to take on more translation projects and provide fair pay, aside from covering production and promotion costs, the report advocates more public funding for translation projects. (The report noted that, as the market for translated works is niche, economic conditions make it difficult for publishers to set fair rates that would enable translators to earn a living from the profession.)
Public support can also help the book sector in many other ways, such as building international networks and reinforcing foreign intellectual property and promotion capacities. Public support systems should have a holistic approach to cover the entire value chain and promote books both from Europe and abroad.
Finally, the report encourages national public institutions to engage in more cooperation at a European level through multi-country book promotion activities, workshops, networking events, and more.
Cooperation enables organizations and professionals to deepen their relationships, gain a better understanding of different markets and practices, and learn from one another. To quote the EU Expert Group, “Cooperation is the most effective way to overcome the transnational barriers that hamper the circulation of works in Europe.”