Claude DURAND, a life dedicated to interpreting

If I remember well in which mood I was in June 1974 after I passed my final exam at ESIT in Paris, I felt a sigh of relief at the thought that I had finally reached the end of a very demanding training path, but in the back of my head I feared that this decisive step would only mark the beginning of a new challenge; in a word, I was wondering whether embarking on a conference interpreter’s career would enable me to grow and make my dreams come true.

Now that I am soon to retire as a manager from the largest interpreting service of the world, I look back on all these years with a deep sense of satisfaction and thankfulness towards this profession and all the wonderful people who have accompanied me along this exciting journey, starting with my first mentors such as the late and regretted Danica Seleskovitch.

As a young student I had often been fascinated by the discrete but pivotal role which interpreters would play in facilitating intercultural communication between statesmen, business managers, scientist or simple citizens. They would apply their language knowledge and skills to the discussion of all sorts of burning topics and at the same time contribute to giving a positive turn to “globalisation”- though this concept hardly existed in the 70s. As a graduate, I was eager to join this strange family of language mediators who followed the never-ending movement of the modern world and learned new things every day with each new professional experience.

I was given the opportunity to embark on this trail when I was recruited in 1977 as a permanent staff interpreter by the European Commission in Brussels. There could not have been a better place for me to witness how efficiently a genuine form of international cooperation can create a virtuous circle between states or people and how strongly the accelerating pace of change pushes us professionals to constantly try to adjust to new situations and challenges.

I was also very lucky because I was permitted or even encouraged to diversify my tasks and activities while working as an interpreter. Very soon I became involved in training new recruits for the European Commission at a time when an intense in-house scheme allowed us to transform rigorously selected graduates into skilful interpreters within a period of six months under the supervision of experienced professionals. Drawing lessons from a regular face-to-face with young trainees, I developed an interest in defining, structuring and fine-tuning training methods for would-be interpreters and I realised on the way that there was nothing more rewarding in life than passing on knowledge and know-how to the next generation.

I left the booth in 2004, after 30 years as a practising interpreter and started a manager’s career but in all my successive tasks and responsibilities I always maintained a close link with the interpreting profession which gave me so much pleasure and opportunities. With the help of other talented professionals, I inter alia contributed to creating new e-learning tools such as SCICtrain – a fascinating adventure which I shared with Lourdes de Rioja and a group of dedicated DG SCIC trainers – and to assisting interested students in better understanding the process and techniques of interpretation.

Today just as 40 years ago, becoming a good conference interpreter remains a demanding challenge. This profession requires excellent language skills, a rich general knowledge – Wikipedia will not save you when you are struggling with a rapid and sophisticated speech to be interpreted in simultaneous mode! -, a taste and talent for communication and exchange in all spheres of society, a lot of hard work…and a real passion for it! This passion has inspired me during my whole career in European institutions and I sincerely hope that it will be as present and vivid in the next generation.

Claude DURAND, DG SCIC, European Commission.

29 May 2015

Why consecutive learning is important?

“Although I’m retired from the Commission now I still do a bit of training now and again and I sometimes get asked why students of conference interpreting on university interpretation courses spend so much of their time learning how to do consecutive interpreting when practically all the work they’ll do later as a conference interpreter- assuming they get that far- will consist of simultaneous interpreting..the difference as I’m sure most of you know being that consecutive (as the name suggests) is done after the speech, using among other things your memory and the notes you have taken during the speech to be interpreted whereas simultaneous is done in a soundproofed booth wearing head-phones while the speaker is talking..which is probably how most laymen see interpreters and also how most professional interpreters might see themselves.
It’s certainly how I spent most of my working days at the EU’s headquarters in Brussels..sitting in a booth wearing headphones which is why I never use headphones or earphones now..I thought 35 years was enough..so I’m now very happy to go jogging without music.
Yet, as I said, I spent most of my interpreting days in the booth which means that I spent some not in the booth but doing consecutive interpreting in the same room as the experts, diplomats or politicians meeting usually in small groups. And not only in the same room, sometimes in the same field, farm or factory, even down the same mine..all in consecutive..my own personal list of the times I’ve had to do consecutive is pretty long but I don’t wish to bore youthe point I’m making is that from my own experience consecutive interpretation is an essential part of a conference interpreter’s tool box- he or she has to know how to do it, since it is a conference interpreting mode that is still used, even if much less so than simultaneous interpreting.
And it can happen when you least expect it..let’s say the simultaneous equipment breaks down or the nuclear fuel committee decides to split into two smaller working groups..or the mayor of the town you’re visiting decides to make a welcome speech..or you’re having a great time enjoying a free meal with your delegates somewhere (oh do come along there won’t be any interpreting required..they said) and then someone feels moved to address the assembled company and duly taps his glass with his fork.. the dreaded sound of cutlery on cristal, signifying consecutive. And you have to do it. You can’t say you’re not on duty or plead incompetence on the grounds that you’ve had a glass of wine or two..and you’d  better do it well because everyone will notice it if you don’t as they will if you do it brilliantly..much more so than if you’re hidden in the booth, because consecutive is very high profile with your own and the profession’s reputation under the public gaze. If you like, it’s our visiting card.
So there are plenty of practical and professional reasons why conference interpreters should be able to do a decent consecutive interpretation which means that you have to learn how to do it.
You might well say what about the first consecutive conference interpreters who worked at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War and later at the League of Nations..they didn’t study consecutive at an interpreting school because there weren’t any then… the first one, Geneva, wasn’t founded until 1941. Well, these were exceptionally gifted men who taught themselves to do decent consecutive on the job over a period of several years..even the famous Jean Herbert admitted to feeling ashamed about one of his early assignments as a consecutive interpreter.
Nowadays it’s much easier to learn to do it properly at an interpreting school. Having said that, I still haven’t answered the question of why so much time is spent on it on most interpreting courses (usually at least half of the hours spent interpreting) and why most schools insist on starting with consecutive before moving on to simultaneous.
The answer that most- but not all- teachers of interpreting would give is that by learning consecutive you learn how to interpret and that consecutive is a useful stepping stone to learning how to do simultaneous interpreting. This argument is based on the premise that the interpreting process is similar in both cases, consecutive and simultaneous..so what is that process. Well, it involves LISTENING, UNDERSTANDING, ANALYSIS of what is being said, SORTING it into chunks of meaning, LINKING those chunks together and STORING all this somehow somewhere before REFORMULATING it in another language.
The obvious difference between the two is that you have to perform all these operations virtually simultaneously in the case of simultaneous whereas this is not the case with consecutive where the last stage in the process- REFORMULATING– comes later. Another difference is that in consecutive, given the time-lag between listening and reformulating, you need a memory prop for the storage part of the process..and this is achieved by taking notes during the listening phase, whereas in SIM the  interaction of short and long-term memory is all done up here. Given the problems students often have with their notes you might well say that consecutive is just as difficult but that’s not the point. The point is that in consecutive reformulation is put off until later thus slowing down at least part of the interpreting process. This has the advantage of allowing to student to concentrate on certain parts of the process, rather than all of them at the same time.
Indeed, one of the basic principles of learning is that you should learn to crawl before you learn to walk and walk before you learn to run. Don’t get me wrong- consecutive interpreting isn’t child’s play. Which is why interpreting courses don’t start with consecutive either. They usually break down the component parts of the interpreting process even more. They start with work on separate skills such as active listening, understanding, discourse analysis and public speaking. As students progress in these separate areas they gradually move on to combining them, after a while combining the listening to a mental analysis of a simple speech with the reformulation of the basic ideas in that speech, either into the same language or into another one..what you could call rudimentary consecutive interpreting. Notes come later since they might interfere with listening if introduced too early. When they are brought in they are best eased in and this can be done easily again by separating them out from the listening process..instead you can take a text of a speech, read it, analyse the way it’s constructed and try taking notes which will reflect that structure, will be a useful prop for your memory and will help prompt appropriate reformulation later on even if you don’t actually do the reformulation at this stage.
So there are different ways of introducing these component skills individually and then in various combinations and most teachers of interpreting would argue that this gradual approach including the combination of skills in full consecutive interpreting tends to develop the student’s listening and analytical skills and also- and this is a crucial point- to prevent him or her falling into the trap of literal reformulation from one language to another.
You see when students start off with simultaneous there’s sometimes  a tendency to go for the simple solution…the literal one with for example a public house being rendered into French as “une maison publique” or one I remember saying myself, “le glacier” becoming “the glacier” when my teacher was in fact referring to the ice-cream man playing his jingle loudly outside. I wasn’t thinking because I was confronted with a new unfamiliar situation..that of sitting in a booth with headphones on.
It’s to avoid that temptation as much as possible that students are taught to listen, think and analyse before and during consecutive interpretation practice when everything is slowed down and separated out before we try and put it all together in SIM and where the reformulation phase is sufficiently distant time-wise from the listening phase to prevent the source language contaminating the reformulation or target language.
Ideally, even when SIM is introduced we can still separate out the problems and skills involved. We can work with texts we are familiar with in order to remove one of the inherent difficulties of SIM which is not having the big picture of the whole speech before we start interpreting, something we do have with consecutive. We can work with short and simple texts. We can work on specific skills such as abstracting, summarizing, paraphrasing and anticipation.
So the point is that skills can be isolated and taught separately before being combined and most teachers prefer to teach their students the slowed-down or dragged-out version of such a combination that consecutive amounts to.
Consecutive also gives students more time to think about and judge what they are doing right or wrong and to listen to what their peers are doing right or wrong..they even have some evidence on their note pad to check whether they were listening or analyzing properly. So although it may not be any easier to do a brilliant consecutive than a brilliant simultaneous the whole process is laid bare for the student to observe and this should make the learning process easier. So, easier to learn and self-assess.
At the same time laying bare the whole process makes it easier too for teachers to assess what their students are doing and thus easier to teach..some interpreters have said teachers prefer teaching CONS for that reason..it’s simpler, less teacher-intensive and less equipment-intensive, but as I see it there’s nothing wrong with that. If it is easier to teach than SIM surely that’s a good argument for starting with it.
I would add that since it’s easier to judge an interpreting performance when it’s done in consecutive, examination panels, particularly in the European Union, tend to set great store by the ability of candidates to perform well in consecutive even if they know they will probably do very little of it once recruited. That’s more of a Realpolitik argument in favour of learning consecutive properly rather than a pedagogical one.
Another argument in favour of achieving a high degree of proficiency in consecutive is that it can- if you’re lucky- be the conference interpreter’s passport to fast-track career development since you might be chosen to accompany high-level delegations on important trips abroad, particularly if you have a retour language as well.
Finally, I ought to point out that although I’ve concentrated on the teaching of conference interpreting we shouldn’t forget that most of the interpreting done every day world-wide is not conference interpreting..it’s public service or community interpreting done in hospitals, courts, immigration offices or police stations. There simultaneous interpretation is virtually unheard of and a mastery of consecutive interpretation even if not always strictly necessary..with a lot being done sentence by sentence…would be a major asset.
So to sum up: students at interpreting schools spend a lot of their time learning how to do consecutive interpretation.
because it is still an essential part of a conference interpreter’s range of professional skills which can actually help to further his or her career.
Because most teachers of interpreting consider it to be not only an end in itself but also a good lead-in to SIM interpreting and a more transparent and observable way of learning to interpret in general, and because-precisely as a result of its greater transparency- test panels at many major employers of conference interpreters still insist that candidates be proficient in it.

Having said all that, it appears that there is as yet no conclusive empirical or research-based evidence to prove that achieving proficiency in consecutive before moving on to simultaneous interpreting actually improves your simultaneous, so perhaps it’s time that someone tried to come up with the evidence- to prove or disprove it, either way.
In the meantime, for those of you who are students of interpreting I hope very much you will enjoy learning to do a decent consecutive.

Should students learn CONS before SIM?- most would agree, although Stephen Pearl at UN said it was “absolutely crazy” and Pat Longley at PCL started both at the same time. Hong Kong had separate SIM and CONS interpreters”.

Dick Fleming is a former staff conference interpreter and trainer at the European Commission, Brussels.

 

 

RETOUR DEMO DE EN: Die Bahnstadt

“Notetaking is a very individual technique. I think it is strongly related to the way the individual interpreter processes information. Most interpreters note down lots of facts, numbers etc. This approach bears the risk of missing the links and coming up with a lot of information which, however, may then be presented in an incoherent way. Also, their active listening may suffer, as they concentrate too much on the notetaking.

I am a very visual person and my brain processes and stores images better than single facts. Therefore, when I take notes, I usually draw images of the things I hear. This way, I memorize while I transcribe the oral information into images, and I reproduce freely, as I describe the pictures I see and remember. However, given that I have a pretty bad memory for names and numbers, I may have to write down these pieces of information, as well as links, or even grammatical features.” Christofer FISCHER.

Nele.FASSNACHT and Christofer FISCHER are both staff interpreters at DG INTERPRETATION, European Commission.

MIC 2014: Visita a la Comisión Europea y Tribunal de Justicia de la UE

As part of the Masters in Conference Interpreting (MIC) at the Universidad de La Laguna, we visited some European Union institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg this May. Our organizer Lourdes has asked me to write a blog post on the experience:

On the morning of the first day, we entered the building of the Directorate General for Interpretation (SCIC). After passing through security check and humbly admiring the blue flags with yellow stars now greeting us from all sides, we ascended a vertical series of escalators to the third floor.

There in a large meeting room we listened to presentations on the accreditation test and how to prepare terminology for meetings. After this brief initiation, in the afternoon 10 of our Spanish booth students underwent mock accreditation tests. We were told the Screening Committee conducts mock tests frequently because it saw many promising applicants fail the real ones due to nerves. It holds mock exams with students from the various interpreting schools when they visit Brussels, as well as via videoconference. (Just at La Laguna we’ve had three such videoconferences this year – the last one even supported simultaneous interpretation, which is a first!) Personally I must say these exercises have greatly helped me to feel less unnecessarily anxious around the Committee. They truly want candidates to succeed and they have a healthy sense of humor to boot.

Far from a competitive environment, as one might expect from the world’s most comprehensive interpreting service, I got the impression from both its initiatives and its staff that SCIC really wants to bring out the best in its staff and applicants alike. Despite the fears we students sometimes conjure up, their goal is not at all to point out all of our shortcomings or be an inaccessible ivory tower of the interpreting world. Rather, SCIC actively engages in outreach and two-way dialog to educate students on the qualities they are looking for and they are constantly looking for new ways to get involved in our training.

After the mocks, that was it for the first day. On the second and third days we were ready to go to the Council of the European Union, where council meetings take place, to work in dummy booths under the guidance of staff interpreters. This experience yielded some invaluable feedback. We students of the English booth also saw how infrequently its interpreters worked due to most of the delegates speaking in English, testament to a globalizing world. But when they did work, many delegates depended on their interpretation and other booths did relay from it. This was also a great opportunity to listen in on various booths (and perhaps feed my own Romanian curiosity…) to learn from their technique, especially how they distilled the delegates’ interventions to produce a more concise, but no less meaningful version in the target language. Within those soundproof walls we were like sponges, absorbing all the nitty-gritty details that no traditional classroom could ever convey.

Beyond the chance to observe professional interpreters, the visit was also an exercise in European Union citizenship. (This is an important topic for everyone, not just interpreting students, in light of the recent European Parliament elections). We were granted a window into the inner workings of Council meetings and observed firsthand the complex interplay of interests between the European Commission representative, the meeting chairman, and the country delegates — an interplay that the interpreter must pick up on if she wishes to be successful. Our first day’s topic dealt with public legal cases in Europe and the creation of a single online database to host their materials. The delegates spent most of their time deciding on the priority of projects for the database and there was quite a bit of heated debate. The second day brought us a different and more mellow session, this time on competitiveness, that touched on sectors ranging from apparel and textiles, to pharmaceuticals. This seamless back-and-forth in several different languages to hammer out political policies is nothing short of novel, especially for someone like myself who comes from outside the EU and has only ever witnessed monolingual policy-making sessions.

Whatever the day’s meeting topic was, it was gratifying to see the delegates use the interpretation, react to it, and even thank or otherwise acknowledge the interpreters.

More than anything, we students left with a feel for the working culture of the Council and an appreciation for the wide range of interventions a professional interpreter is expected to handle. The short interjections made by delegates, some to the point, others more meandering, were a far cry from the well-structured and fleshed-out speeches given to us in class. But that variety and the need to think on one’s feet are what make this profession so interesting.

On the evening of the third day we boarded the train for Luxembourg City. The three-hour ride through the countryside and under the setting sun was perhaps the most peaceful and serene of my life. Good thing because the early morning of the fourth day saw us assembled at the entrance of the architecturally domineering yet elegant seat of the European Court of Justice in the east of the city. Once inside, we were debriefed on the structure and operations of the Court, as well as the case whose public ruling we were to hear shortly. The hearing concerned the rights of third-country nationals staying illegally in EU member states, in this case, France. This meant the judges and legal representation spoke almost entirely in French, which is also the dominant working language of the ECJ, so the English and Spanish booths worked briskly for the next two hours. (The dummy booths of some more exotic EU languages also trained during this particular session, though I can’t say if that’s a regular occurrence.) The language of the hearing was legal and technical in nature, a far cry from the more organic tone of Council meetings back in Brussels, and it soon became clear why a degree in law or jurisprudence is required for staff interpreters at the ECJ. While not as convoluted as, say, astrophysics, the material does demand familiarity with the rules of the game and the boundaries of the playing field you are standing on, if only so that you as the interpreter can deftly transit along its accepted and well-trodden pathways of expression.

After the ruling, we met with one of the staff interpreters from the Spanish booth that we had just been tuned into. During this informal encounter we picked up invaluable nuggets of information, such as the fact that the ECJ brings freelance interpreters in a day early to study case materials for the session they will work, for which they are compensated. This is due to both the difficulty of the material and how much is riding on a quality interpretation service; the decisions handed down in Luxembourg will reflect in all the EU member countries, after all.

If one were to describe the European Court of Justice and differentiate it from Brussels, the word “ethereal” for some reason comes to mind — from the aesthetics of the Palais building, down to the nature and wide-ranging repercussions of its work (compared to the Council, which is more hands-on).

All in all, we left Brussels and Luxembourg with a renewed sense of pride in our profession, knowing that somewhere our work was highly appreciated. On an individual level, each one of us now better understood whom we were doing this for and for what purpose. Some of us even became quite engrossed in and attached to our meeting topics and wished we could return to the Institutions for the follow-up session! Proof that these are stories worth telling, and we interpreters are the lucky ones who get to bring them to a wider audience.

Lily Zhang, MIC student 2014.

Interpreting Michelle OBAMA

MAKING OF:

“Quiero pensar que ésta no es mi mejor simultánea :-). En este caso el reto era enfrentarse a un discurso desconocido, interpretándolo sin texto y sin preparación alguna: es decir, una situación bastante habitual en la vida real de un intérprete. Si el orador habla con espontaneidad y a un ritmo natural, es perfectamente factible. Michelle Obama no habla excesivamente rápido, pero en realidad su discurso está preparado, es más denso que una alocución espontánea, no presenta ninguna de las repeticiones y redundancias que caracterizan al discurso hablado. Hay partes donde me ha costado bastante seguirlo y he tenido que simplificar el original, intentando mantener el mensaje esencial. Una dificultad adicional para mí ha sido que no estoy acostumbrada a este tipo de discursos: tengo, después de 25 años de trabajo, todo tipo de automatismos para conceptos como exacciones arancelarias o límites de residuos, pero es la primera vez que tengo que contar la historia de una cita romántica :-).

¡Me ha parecido dificilísimo!”

Marta IGARTUA es intérprete permanente de la DG INTERPRETACIÓN, SCIC, COMISIÓN EUROPEA.

[Esta interpretación simultánea es totalmente real: realizada sin preparación previa ni guión escrito]

Interpreters, 1968.

Alguna vez, rara vez, me encuentro alguna perla en el camino. Esta obra, del cineasta belga André DELVAUX, es una de esas ocasiones. Imposible no compartirlo..

Marco BENEDETTI: What´s interpreting?

Unity in diversity: languages for mobility, jobs and active citizenship

“Signore e signori,

che questa conferenza sull’unità nella diversità europea si tenga qui a Vilnius in occasione della giornata delle lingue, è una felice coincidenza carica di significato. La Lituania è il centro geografico dell’Europa e possiamo dire che proprio nella sua lingua si riassume l’avventura linguistica europea. Tutti sappiamo infatti quanto la lingua lituana sia vicina alla protolingua indoeuropea delle origini e come nelle sue tanto antiche quanto ermetiche parole si trovino le radici di tutte quelle che fanno le nostre lingue. Se una così piccola lingua ha resistito al tempo e alla storia conservandosi quasi intatta per secoli, malgrado invasioni e oppressioni, è merito della gente che la parla e che ci offre oggi la testimonianza di una tradizione inestinguibile. Ha detto Joseph De Maistre che ogni lingua ripete i fenomeni spirituali che si operarono alle origini, e più una lingua è antica più questi fenomeni sono appariscenti. Il lituano è una lingua di poesia come lo erano tutte le nostre nel tempo in cui erano ancora capaci di parlare con il divino. Fuori dalle correnti del potere da cui sono state catturate altre lingue europee, resistendo alla razionalità dei tempi moderni in nome della poesia, il lituano ha conservato la liricità del pensiero elevato, distaccato dall’angustia del contingente e più capace di parlare oltre il proprio tempo. Altri oratori più eruditi di me hanno approfondito questi aspetti più propriamente linguistici nel corso di questa conferenza. Nondimeno, mi piace osservare quanto lo
spirito di conservazione del lituano sia un istinto positivo condiviso dalle tante culture e lingue che oggi fanno la nostra ricchezza. E da italiano non posso esimermi dal ricordare la curiosa leggenda che vuole che i lituani siano discendenti dei soldati di Giulio Cesare. Una leggenda nutrita dalle antiche somiglianze fra lituano e latino che derivano dalle loro comuni origini e di nuovo sono da attribuire alla sconfinata capacità di conservazione del popolo lituano. Una leggenda che nel XVI fu talmente popolare che qualcuno propose addirittura di introdurre il latino come lingua scritta in Lituania. Chissà, se fosse andata a quel modo oggi qui staremmo parlando latino! Nondimeno credo che conservare il lituano sia stata una più ammirevole impresa. Cui noi italiani abbiamo dato qualche piccolo contributo. Un grande linguista italiano, Giacomo Devoto, nella prefazione della sua Storia delle letterature baltiche pubblicata nel 1957, quando i paesi baltici sembravano scomparsi dalla storia, ebbe la lucidità di scrivere: “Al di fuori delle lotte politiche e dei regimi economici, i popoli non muoiono. A tutti gli uomini di lettere, in patria e in esilio, a tutti i loro concittadini, queste pagine portano una parola di solidarietà”. Una solidarietà che alla fine ha avuto i suoi effetti, se oggi possiamo ritrovarci qui, in un’Europa infine riunita e pacificata.
La Lituania celebra oggi, assieme ad altri nove stati un decennio di adesione all’Unione europea. Dieci anni che hanno consolidato l’appartenenza europea di una parte a lungo dimenticata del nostro continente e che hanno permesso il rifluire di idee e scambi fra le nostre culture. Per alcuni dei popoli europei che sono entrati nell’Unione con l’allargamento del 2004, una delle cose che l’adesione ha tratto definitivamente in salvo è proprio la lingua. Non dobbiamo dimenticare infatti che la lingua è al centro dei trattati europei. In essi ogni paese viene riconosciuto come membro innanzitutto attraverso l’espressione della sua lingua ufficiale.
L’Europa è quindi fin dall’inizio un progetto politico di popoli che sanciscono la loro diversità linguistica e culturale come un fondamento distintivo ma che in essa riconoscono una matrice di unità. Questo riconoscimento politico che l’Unione europea conferisce alle lingue di tanti popoli rimasti intrappolati negli strascichi della Seconda guerra mondiale ha ridato fiato a culture a lungo soffocate, ha rilanciato l’editoria e la traduzione di opere rimaste sconosciute per decenni, ha riaperto le porte delle accademie, rilanciato l’interesse per la ricerca linguistica e ridato consapevolezza identitaria a lingue soffocate dall’oppressione. L’adesione all’Unione europea in tutti i nostri paesi ha comportato un aumento delle necessità di traduzione e ha parallelamente dato maggiore spessore a tutte le nostre lingue. Più una lingua è tradotta, più si fa conoscere nel mondo. Più traduce, più conosce il mondo. La traduzione è sempre stato uno strumento di dialogo fra le culture europee ma da quando esiste l’Unione europea essa ha assunto anche un ruolo politico. L’ufficialità delle nostre lingue in ambito europeo ha in qualche modo istituzionalizzato il loro dialogo, ha reso universale la nuova concettualità scaturita dall’inedita esperienza politica europea, ha creato un’orizzontalità di contenuti che impercettibilmente contamina il nostro comune sentire e lo rende più consistente. Di fatto, se le nostre lingue continuano a essere diverse, sempre di più esse ricalcano parallelamente un’unità di intenti e di significati.
Le nostre istituzioni sono sempre state ben consapevoli della grande importanza che rivestono le lingue per lo sviluppo di un’autentica cittadinanza europea. E’ in questa prospettiva che la Commissione europea si è data una politica per il multilinguismo. Con i suoi diversi strumenti, finanzia progetti educativi e formativi di vario genere, integrando le politiche degli Stati membri in uno spirito di dialogo interculturale e di integrazione.
Nella nuova Europa liberata lo studio delle lingue si sta diffondendo sempre più assieme alla domanda di maggiore varietà di insegnamento linguistico. Conoscere le lingue apre nuove possibilità di lavoro, non solo perché offre maggiori sbocchi grazie ad una maggiore mobilità, ma anche perché le lingue di per sé sono un mercato. Il multilinguismo non è soltanto diffusione delle conoscenze linguistiche, ma anche sviluppo di competenze professionali nel campo delle lingue e nuova opportunità economica.
Per questo alla Direzione generale Interpretazione siamo da sempre impegnati nella formazione di interpreti, professionisti indispensabili per il funzionamento della grande macchina delle istituzioni europee dove ogni giorno si tengono centinaia di riunioni fra delegati di tutti i nostri paesi. La Commissione europea è il più grande servizio di interpretazione al mondo. Dà lavoro a 550 funzionari e a 400 free-lance ogni giorno dei quasi 3000 che ha accreditato per soddisfare i bisogni delle discussioni e dei negoziati in cui delegati di tutta Europa si incontrano per un totale di 12.000 riunioni l’anno.
In effetti, così come per il cittadino europeo dovrebbe ormai diventare un dovere civico essere in grado di esprimersi in almeno un’altra lingua, allo stesso modo resta un suo diritto inalienabile il potersi esprimere nella propria lingua madre nell’ambito delle istituzioni europee che per la loro natura e per la loro missione appartengono a tutti i nostri popoli.
In questi cinquant’anni, diverse generazioni di interpreti si sono succedute nelle nostre cabine. Un servizio che all’inizio lavorava in quattro lingue, oggi ne usa ventiquattro, con una moltiplicazione incessante delle riunioni derivante dalla crescita dell’Unione e del campo di attività delle sue istituzioni. Gli interpreti sono forse i pionieri della costruzione europea, non solo per il fondamentale ruolo di mediazione che da sempre svolgono nelle nostre istituzioni, ma anche per la loro formazione e per la loro esperienza di vita. Sempre a cavallo di lingue e culture diverse, gli interpreti sono forse quelli di noi più consapevoli della forza della nostra varietà linguistica e culturale e anche della comune corrente sotterranea che la nutre.
L’assoluta parità linguistica che l’Unione europea si è voluta dare non ha precedenti nella storia ed è unica fra le organizzazioni internazionali. In nessun’altra infatti esiste un multilinguismo così assoluto. Le ragioni di questo fatto vanno ricercate nella natura stessa dell’Unione europea che, come afferma la Corte di Giustizia, rappresenta “…un ordinamento giuridico di nuovo genere nel campo del diritto internazionale, a favore del quale gli Stati hanno rinunziato, anche se in settori limitati, ai loro poteri sovrani, un ordinamento che riconosce come soggetti non soltanto gli Stati, ma anche i loro cittadini”. Mentre le altre organizzazioni internazionali agiscono esclusivamente a livello intergovernativo, l’Unione europea assume decisioni di carattere legislativo che incidono direttamente sui cittadini ed è per questo motivo che tutta la legislazione adottata dall’Unione deve essere disponibile in tutte le lingue ufficiali e che ogni cittadino deve potersi rivolgere nella propria lingua alle istituzioni europee. Non sarebbe ammissibile che i cittadini si trovassero ad essere titolari di diritti e doveri espressi in una lingua diversa dalla propria e costretti a parlare una lingua imposta per esercitarli. Per questo motivo tutte le lingue dell’Unione sono ufficiali e hanno lo stesso valore giuridico.
La lingua nell’Unione europea non è dunque solo espressione culturale ma anche strumento di esercizio del proprio diritto. Questo è il principio che la Direzione generale Interpretazione ha seguito sviluppando in collaborazione con la Direzione Generale Giustizia un progetto per la formazione e il riconoscimento degli interpreti giurati. Il multiculturalismo, l’emigrazione esterna e la mobilità interna europea rendono sempre più frequenti situazioni in cui un cittadino è chiamato a esprimersi davanti a un tribunale che non parla la sua lingua. Per tutelare i suoi diritti e garantire un equo trattamento, è necessario l’intervento di un professionista che riunisca nelle sue competenze sia quelle giuridiche che quelle linguistiche. Così si sta sviluppando sempre più la figura professionale dell’interprete giurato. Questo è un ulteriore esempio di come le lingue siano produttrici di nuovi mestieri e la loro conoscenza sia portatrice di progresso sociale. E di come esse costituiscano la dimensione più profonda di una cittadinanza responsabile, capace di infondere autentica appartenenza e di incoraggiare quella coesione sociale, quella comunità di progetto che è il presupposto indispensabile per un’integrazione rispettosa dell’unicità di ogni individuo.
Le nuove tecnologie in questo campo aprono altre frontiere ancora. Oggi la formula dell’e-learning si presta particolarmente allo studio delle lingue e dà nuove prospettive a lingue di piccole comunità che ritrovandosi su internet possono coltivare la loro lingua e la loro cultura ed anche attirare nuovo interesse. Il sapere linguistico acquisisce nuove forme e nuovi metodi di insegnamento servono anche le necessità suscitate dalla nuova dimensione del dialogo interculturale. Un’Europa che diventa terra d’accoglienza di migranti venuti da ogni parte del mondo non può chiudersi alle loro culture ma deve con esse instaurare un dialogo che necessariamente si fa anche attraverso la condivisione delle conoscenze linguistiche. Sempre più, grazie alla diffusione delle lingue, la cultura diventa il terreno in cui si gioca l’influenza e anche nuovo campo di attività economica. E noi che siamo portatori di una varietà culturale immensa, noi che siamo i custodi di giacimenti culturali che hanno fatto la storia del mondo, dobbiamo essere in grado di valorizzarla e di farne un polo di attrazione ma anche una vetrina del nostro modello di civiltà.
Oggi la costruzione europea è a una svolta. La crisi economica e finanziaria ha messo in luce le debolezze di un’unione a metà e ci ha aperto gli occhi sulla necessità di adeguare il nostro progetto politico alle nuove sfide della modernità. Oggi un rafforzamento dell’unione politica è possibile anche grazie alla più grande consapevolezza delle nostre società che nella comune difficoltà vedono più chiaramente la loro comunità di destino. Gli europei conoscono meglio l’Europa, si rendono maggiormente conto che solo insieme possiamo avere un futuro e un peso nel mondo. Dobbiamo adottare un nuovo passo, mollare gli ormeggi e abbandonare le reticenze. Maggiore unità non vuol dire diluizione delle nostre diversità. Al contrario, approfondendo la nostra conoscenza reciproca daremo un nuovo respiro alle nostre culture, nuovi orizzonti per la loro espansione, maggiore riconoscimento del loro valore. È questo il momento più opportuno per mettere in pratica la forza della nostra diversità, per farla uscire dal mare protetto della semplice protezione e alzare le vele verso il largo. Dobbiamo avere il coraggio e l’orgoglio dell’assoluta originalità del progetto europeo e della tranquilla rivoluzione che esso rappresenta nella storia dell’umanità.
In fin dei conti, l’esempio da seguire è proprio espresso qui, nell’anello di paesi piccoli ma antichi che si affacciano al Baltico e che sulla carta sembrano così fragilmente esposti alla massa di potenze che hanno attorno. La forza che ha consentito loro di conservare intatta la loro lingua e la loro cultura è stata proprio la più improbabile, la più inattesa: non la chiusura ma l’apertura. L’apertura al cambiamento, al confronto, la capacità di guardare lontano con la consapevolezza delle proprie origini, la disponibilità ad accettare l’altro proprio come modo per non lasciarsene sopraffare. Un’idea che esprime molto bene il poeta lituano Justinas Marcinkevičius quando scrive:

Coi borghi e i fiumi,

le città e i laghi,

coi nomi mi rendo visibile.

Come un vocabolario Fisso alla lettera L,

così aperto sono io.

Un’immagine di tranquillità e di forza, da cui emana tutta la potente serenità di un uomo che si sente parte di una comunità solidale, padrone della propria cultura, della propria tradizione e soprattutto della propria lingua. Con il vocabolario aperto alla lettera L della sua Lituania, in segno di sfida, di orgoglio ma anche di accettazione della diversità e della varietà delle tante lettere di cui è fatto il parlare umano, Justinas Marcinkevičius va incontro al vasto mondo. Lo stesso dovremmo fare noi nella costruzione del nostro progetto europeo, aperti come il vocabolario delle nostre ventiquattro lingue alla lettera E, che è per noi tutti l’iniziale di Europa.”

EUROPEAN COMMISSION DIRECTORATE GENERAL FOR INTERPRETATION
Speech by Director General Marco Benedetti
EUROPEAN DAY OF LANGUAGES 2013 VILNIUS, 25-26 September 2013.