Speech delivered by Benoît Vitale, acting Director of the Translation Centre, at the Workshop “Multilingualism – a challenge for the EU Agencies Network” organised by the Centre on 30 September 2021 under the umbrella of the EU Agencies’ Heads of Communication and Information Network (HCIN).
Multilingualism in the digital era
Good morning, dear colleagues, and also from my side a cordial welcome to our workshop dedicated to the topic of multilingualism. I am very pleased to see this event happening on Saint Jérôme, as Stephanie said, the patron saint of translators, and at a time where we are discussing at the EU Agencies Network level how to enhance engagement and communication with our stakeholders and target audiences.
No doubt, multilingualism is an important aspect to be considered in these discussions. It is not only one of the EU's founding principles anchored in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is also key to successful communication and outreach. Making information available in the 24 official languages of the EU is the sine qua non for stakeholders and citizens to understand all that the EU is achieving for them and to participate in the EU’s democratic process.
The Translation Centre is one of the nine translation services of the EU: in fulfilling its mandate as the shared linguistic service provider for the EU Agencies, the Centre facilitates effective multilingualism in the EU by playing its role in close partnership with its clients.
As you are all well aware, technological advances have revolutionised the world of communication and translation, in particular in the last years: translation memory tools, neural machine translation, speech-to-text technologies have opened up new opportunities. Furthermore, the European Commission has made digitalisation one of its key priorities for the coming years, thereby obliging all of us to rethink the way we produce and disseminate information.
The Translation Centre, supported by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and in close cooperation with its institutional partners, implemented an ambitious transformation programme over the past two years. The programme focused mainly on using artificial intelligence to respond to the multilingual communication needs of the EU institutions and bodies, which are faced with high translation volumes of varied and specialised content to be processed with limited budgetary resources.
Today, we are more than ever a modern EU language service provider, which offers its clients a wide range of new added value services. These include transcription, for example. Several of our clients use this new audio-visual service on a regular basis to keep a written record of their meetings and conferences. Another example is subtitling: streaming videos has become one of the world’s most popular means of communication. In line with these trends, the production of videos by EU institutions and agencies has grown significantly. These videos should be understood by as many citizens as possible. With subtitles – which are produced taking advantage of the same speech-to-text technology used for transcription - this becomes a reality. Subtitles are of course also a means of enhancing accessibility as they help people with hearing problems to get involved in EU matters.
We have made great progress in the field of machine translation thanks to our standard machine translation engines and our custom machine translation system in the areas of intellectual property and public health. The standard neural machine translation engines will soon be used to provide our clients with a light post-editing translation service at a lower cost. For the recently established European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), that handles a great amount of very sensitive information, we were able to come up with a tailor-made on-site Machine Translation solution building on synergies with the colleagues from the European Commission’s DG Translation.
Finally, conscious of the rising demand for short, impactful digital information, we are now embarking on a pilot project with the colleagues from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) to assess the possibility for our clients to ask us to summarise some of their documents before we translate them. While this pilot will be a manual exercise, we are working on an automatic summarisation service, also based on artificial intelligence, that will be available in the near future. I truly believe that in the future the combined summarisation and translation service, specially focussed on cost-efficiency, will be a strong supporter of multilingualism!
As you can see, many things are happening in the fast-changing - and fascinating - world of translation.
I would like to underline here that machine translation will not replace human translation, at least not in the near to medium future. It will be complementary to human translation and expand the possibilities for an organisation to deploy multilingualism. The choice between the different translation service options available to you today will depend on the purpose you pursue with your communication. My colleague Mauro Bubnic, who is the Head of our Translation Support Department, will be pleased to give you further insight into this in his presentation right after my introduction.
Let me assure you of our continuous commitment to accompany you, our valued stakeholders, in the implementation of multilingualism in your communication strategies. We are well aware of the challenges you face and we are convinced that together we can identify the direction you want to take and find the appropriate solutions.
We are looking forward to welcoming Ms O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman, as the keynote speaker to this workshop, who is well known for her engagement towards multilingualism in the EU and who will certainly give us food for thought and set out the framework for our discussions and brainstorming on how to move forward on the important topic of multilingualism.