Interested in a back alley liver transplant?

One only needs to look at the collection of EU directives and laws at EU LEX to see how rotten the state of language skills really is in Brussels. Most translators and interpreters working for the EU aren’t actual translators and interpreters, but – literally – nobodies collected off a street corner and given a crash course (as if a few months could turn anyone into a professional translator and interpreter). As a result, every single EU document is full of mistakes, as well as incorrect and unnatural language.

Germans, in particular, are well-known the world over for overestimating their English language skills – hence the ubiquitous line heard from so many Germans when asked if they know English: “Yes, I can English.” (sic)

Yet they are in the forefront of those who believe that they don’t need professional translators and interpreters, because they are sooooo good.

Conference interpreting has pretty much ceased to exist because most conferences are now conducted with English as the lingua franca. This is so because of companies’ and organizations’ desire to save money, but also because too many people believe they know English when, in fact, they don’t.

It’s easy to put them to the test: sit them down in front of a TV and make them watch any regular TV show or movie. Then, give them a pop quiz on comprehension. Invariably, the results will show that they have misunderstood entire plot lines and/or understood just half the dialogues.

While scientists, economists, etc. who attend an international conference on their respective disciplines do know their technical jargon in English, it still doesn’t mean that they can understand the general language used to link together all those technical terms.

Quite often people like that have a completely perverted sense of what English really is.

I was recently asked to assess a translation done by someone else. That translation had been rejected by the end client who claimed that the translation was all wrong and “bad English”. The end client had, therefore, corrected the translation to show what it should have been.

The end client was German. The original English translation, which was actually almost picture perfect, and had been translated by native English speakers, was really quite good. But the German client turned it into a useless document written in Deulish. In other words, it ended up being a document written in German, but using English words.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens hundreds of times all over the world every single week of the year. Increasingly, companies and organizations are relying on in-house staff for communications in foreign languages – not because those employees are professionally trained or have a degree in languages or translation, but simply because someone makes an unproven claim of being able to speak this or that language.

The only ones getting screwed in the process are the companies and organizations. And is it any wonder that the EU is on the verge of falling apart (and its demise can’t come soon enough for anyone with common sense and a half-working brain – the EU is Europe’s biggest enemy) when its own laws and directives are nothing but a long list of incorrectly worded and phrased documents written in pseudo-languages?

This is not to say that every German, Italian or Russian and so on is incapable of acquiring proper skills of English or any other language. But just as only few are blessed with a successful singing voice or the talent to make music (that is, at a level that allows them to perform for an audience), so is the number of those who can learn, really learn, a foreign language measured in fractions rather than in the hundreds or thousands. In fact, and I say this as a graduate of a Master’s program in translation, even among such graduates, only three or five out of a hundred are really qualified to work as translators and/or interpreters.

When companies or organizations refuse to hire professional translators or interpreters, they are doing the equivalent of undergoing an illegal organ transplant in an abandoned warehouse in some gangland territory of Los Angeles, instead of going to a real hospital and paying an actual surgeon for his/her services.

The outcome of black-market medical procedures and the forgoing of professional language services is lethal.

Related: Watch Franz Pöchhacker talking about the current issues in interpreting, including the use of English as a lingua franca.