‘So many things you can’t just translate’ — the EU’s Young Translators Come Together

One knows that Spring has come to Brussels when the winners of Juvenes Translatores descend upon the city. So Rytis Martikonis, DG Translation Director-General, affectionately pointed out as he officially opened the awarding rites on April 4, 2019.

As previously reported, 28 young translators emerged victorious among a field of 3,252 participants from 751 European schools in this, the 12th edition of annual contest organized by the European Commission.

Under the theme European Year of Cultural Heritage, the translators worked with 154 out of 552 possible language combinations between each of the European Union’s 24 languages.

“Most of you were born, more or less, around 2001. So you are the best of the millennials!” Martikonis proclaimed to the young audience and their families.

He added, “You come from the farthest corners of the European Union. We have winners from Portugal. We have winners from Finland. And the distance between the two is more than 5,000 kilometers. So 5,000 kilometers is reduced to this one spot here in Brussels.”

Young Voices on What Makes a Good Translation

She has had a fascination for languages since childhood, recalled winner Ana Silva of Portugal. “But it was only this year that I was able to accept this challenge of translating into my own language — and I appreciated just how gratifying such an experience can be,” she said.

Silva went on to refer to Umberto Eco’s famous quote about translation being the language of Europe and said, “It’s true. Translation and interpretation are so important in so far as they maintain linguistic diversity and the particular nuances of a region or a country.”

European Commissioner Günther Oettinger

Poland’s winner Krzysztof Warzocha, called languages “the vehicle for culture,” adding that “learning these languages should not be in isolation from minimum general knowledge about the culture, customs, and history of another country.”

This view was echoed by Astrid Sloth Larsen of Denmark, another winner, who noted that “language gives you the key to a country’s culture,” something she realized while on a student exchange trip to the US.

She further pointed out, “What’s so fascinating is that there are so many things that you can’t just translate. And we all understood that from Juvenes Translatores.”

Larsen defined a good translation as one that is “able to translate culture and humor into the foreign language.”

For her part, Anna Holmén, EC Communications Officer and one-time translator, said that to come up with a good translation, “you need to have a good mastery of your mother tongue and you need to find the combination between being true to the original and creating a fluent text in the target language.”

Asked by Miha Zlicar of the DG Translation, if machines can help, Holmén quipped in reply, “Certainly, but we will have to help them along the way.” Holmén and Zlicar were the event’s masters of ceremony.

Rytis Martikonis, Astrid Sloth Larsen, Günther Oettinger

Proceedings were briefly interrupted by the appearance of Captain Europe. He greeted the crowd with, “bon jour,” before encouraging the young audience to “be informed, tell their friends, and vote.” (Elections for the European Parliament take place in May and, for many in the crowd, it will be their first time to vote.)

Prior to handing the young translators their prizes, Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, admonished them to look to the future by considering where Europe came from.

“Europe began with six countries. Now there are 28 of us. You have 70, 80, 90 years to look forward to,” he said; joking as an aside, “Perhaps, soon, one country fewer because you never know what’s coming out of London these days.”

He highlighted diversity by pointing out, “The European Commission has 24 language combinations and innumerable dialects, because the diversity of Europe is part of Europe’s cultural heritage.”

Once more, Slator congratulates this year’s winners. See you all next Spring!

Image source: EC – Audiovisual Service