Need for a National Translation Policy
In October 2017, we submitted the Panhellenic Association of Translators’ (PEM) position paper to the Greek Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs. We explained the reasons why Greece has a pressing need for more Greek-speaking translators working from non-Western European languages and outlined our proposals for a national translation policy.
Framework for a national translation policy
A well-defined translation policy is an integral part of Greece’s institutional framework and strategic plan for systematic economic development.
Results of the economic crisis
The economic crisis limited Greece’s capacity to serve as a positive model in its region of interests.
The region is characterised by marked instability, which according to the Hellenic Foundation For European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) is expected to continue for a number of years. Such instability makes Greece’s active engagement with the countries in the greater region imperative.
This requires constructive contacts and ongoing, effective communication at all levels: foreign policy, economic cooperation, crisis resolution, energy policy, bilateral agreements and others. To achieve this, many suitably skilled professional translators and interpreters are urgently needed.
Nevertheless, critical short- and medium-term needs, such as the currently underway energy-related cooperation and interconnection of Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, and possibly Turkey, remain unmet by Greek-speaking professionals.
At the same time, many trained and specialised Greeks are migrating due to the lack of jobs and opportunities for professional and social advancement. This mobility entails a loss of expertise and human resources for Greece.
Linguistic professions in Greece
This mobility does not apply to linguistic professions, as with our work, we are able to improve the position and prestige of the Greek language and Greece no matter where we are based. There is no such thing as “brain drain” in the translation and interpreting industry.
However, it is a fact that education and training disproportionately focus on West European languages, and mainly English and French, and to a lesser extent German, Italian and Spanish. Other working languages are rare.
Due to its location, Greece has other needs in the areas of international relations, economic cooperation, development of domestic technology and exchange of know-how with international partners.
Knowledge of a language reflects the extent to which one understands the corresponding culture and mentality. This means that, since we mainly know West European languages, we perceive the regions around Greece just as West Europeans do. We learn about events in the Balkans, and countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Middle East mainly through the news that western news media elect to report, since we are not able to understand the original news sources directly. This constitutes a serious obstacle in developing independent, successful supranational cooperation in any sector.
Our proposals for a national translation policy
The immediate introduction of a national policy to increase the number of Greek-speaking professional translators and interpreters in specific working languages is imperative.
With a national translation policy, both the country and every Greek initiative will gain significant medium-term benefits in the international system.
We agree with ELIAMEP, which believes that investing in the economy of knowledge will help Greece grow and overcome the crisis, and proposes increased expenditures for research, technological development and innovation (only available in Greek) as a percentage of the GDP.
We must focus mainly on these languages (in alphabetical order): Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Persian, Russian, Turkish and Urdu.
It is estimated that it would take new Greek-speaking translators and interpreters about 4-8 years to develop competency in these working languages. We could see results sooner, provided the national translation policy targets specific professional sub-categories.
How the Greek state can help
The proposal calls for forming an agency to oversee planning, with the support of PEM and other related professional associations.
Support of relevant university departments
By providing funding and institutional accreditation to relevant university departments, special tutoring could be offered to students who have already chosen English, French or another established language.
The Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University has already embarked on such an effort.
It is also possible to take advantage of the Horizon 2020 programme.
These efforts could establish the foundation for mastering a triangle of working languages, namely: Greek, West European and a new language. This would greatly increase demand for graduates on the job market.
Introduction and strengthening of undergraduate programmes
The number of undergraduate translation study programmes at university level must be increased, focusing exclusively on Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Persian, Russian, Turkish and Urdu.
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh) has already established an endowed chair for Russian Language and Culture.
Knowing a language does not equate with translation skills, but it is a prerequisite. For this reason, the curricula of philology departments should be adapted to include teaching theory of translation, basic translation skills and modern translation technology.
A national translation policy should also promote the learning of these non-West European languages amongst the general population.
Teachers must be trained first, to gradually increase the number available to teach these target languages. This means that relevant university departments should receive specific funding and accreditation to develop programmes and train future teachers. Such training could be scaled from introductory level knowledge to certification of proficiency in the language.
Forming an agency
We propose that an agency be formed to oversee the drafting of a national translation policy. This could be the Institute of Educational Policy (IEP), with support from PEM and other professional associations.
A specific quantitative target should be set for 5 to 10 years in the future to realise the goals.
The availability of additional elective classes at upper secondary level in Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Persian, Russian, Turkish or Urdu will also play an important role.
The Iranian Embassy Cultural Centre supports the offering of free Persian lessons both at the Panteion University and at its own premises in Athens.
Recognition and rewards for good practices in fast-paced training in the private sector will also help significantly.
New jobs in translation and interpreting
With a national translation policy in place, numerous new value-added positions can be created at relatively low cost that will endure over time.
Even based on conservative estimates, there are potentially thousands of value-added, specialised jobs in the linguistic professions, such as specialised translation (technology, law, finance, software, audiovisual material), localisation, interpreting and others.
Greece is fortunate to have an exceptional, immediately available professional resource. That is evident from the numbers of Greek-speaking students graduating from translation and interpreting programmes in Greece and abroad. A portion of graduates in foreign language and literature could also be added to this number, if certain conditions are met.