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Frequently asked questions about DG Translation

1 - How much do we translate?

In 2015 output was 1.9 million pages. Of this, 73% was done in-house (1,459,476 pages) and the rest by contractors (532,156 pages). A page is 1 500 typed characters not including spaces.

DG Translation's workload is steadily rising, because of the constant expansion in the Commission's areas of activity and since more official EU languages were added when new members joined the EU in 2004, 2007 and 2013.

Types of document translated, in order of priority

  • proposed laws, policy papers ("communications") and Commission consultation documents
  • consultation documents to or from national parliaments and correspondence with national authorities, companies and individuals
  • websites and press releases.


2 - How much does DG Translation cost?

€330m a year (estimated) — or some €0.60 for every EU citizen.

Since 2004, the Commission has been able to handle vastly increased demand for translations as new countries have joined the EU — and continue its primary duty of providing legislation in all official languages — without increasing costs unduly.

In 2004–13, the number of official EU languages doubled from 11 to 24, but Commission translation costs increased by only 20%.

According to certain very rough estimates, the cost of all language services in all EU institutions amounts to less than 1% of the annual general budget of the EU. Divided by the population of the EU, this comes to around €2 per person per year.


3 - Can we translate for just anyone?

No, DG Translation does not take on work for individuals, companies or other bodies outside the Commission. Other EU institutions are served by their own translation services, or share one.


4 - What kinds of texts do we translate?

Legislation, policy documents, reports to other EU institutions, background papers on legal, technical, financial, scientific and economic issues, correspondence, webpages, press material, speeches and minutes — whatever the Commission and its departments need for their work.

Our products:

  • full-length translations
  • quick translations of short texts ("translation hotline")
  • written summaries
  • oral summaries
  • translations and edited versions of texts for the web
  • edited originals


5 - How are translations produced?

A — In-house
  • traditional method — translation by translator into their main language, often with the help of electronic translation tools (translation memories, IATE, voice recognition, etc.).
  • 'two-way' method — translation by translator out of their main language. Obviously, the translator needs an excellent knowledge of the target language for this.
  • relay — one translator translates a document into a "relay language" (usually English or French) and a second translator then puts it into the target language requested. Used for uncommon language combinations, e.g. Estonian into Greek.
  • 'three-way' method — neither the source language nor the target language is the main language of the translator, e.g. when an Italian translator puts an Arabic text into English.

B — Freelance

  • The translation is sent to a contractor, who will have access to some Commission translation memories and databases to improve consistency and productivity.

To ensure quality, documents are always revised by translators whose main language is the target language.


6 - Why not privatise translation work?

The Commission has ruled out complete privatisation. There has to be a core service in-house to work on legislative texts and politically sensitive, confidential or very urgent material that cannot be sent out to freelance translators.

And the requirements of legal certainty and agreement between all 23 language versions call for multilingual quality control. This would be difficult to organise if the work were done externally.

However, part of the work is done by contractors — translation companies and freelance translators (29% in 2014).


7 - How is DG Translation preparing for new languages as the EU expands?

Before it joins the EU, each new member country that will bring in a new official language sets up a Translation and Coordination Unit (TCU) under one of its ministries, to translate almost 160,000 pages of EU law into its national language.

In the run-up to joining, DG Translation helps the new country integrate by:

  • providing technical assistance, training, professional advice and support for the TCU
  • setting up a local office in the country and liaising with it
  • exploring and developing the freelance market in the country
  • encouraging and advising universities on the content of training courses for translators, thus helping ensure their graduates meet our present and future needs, and
  • liaising with local translators’ associations and organisations.

Every year, we also host a number of trainees from recently admitted countries.

At the same time, our translators are trained to translate from the new languages into the other official languages.