Translating for European Institutions (Interview with Antonio Tortosa)
At CPSL we have been translating for European institutions since Spain came part of the, at that time, Common Market back in 1986. During these 25 years we have built a long-term, outstanding team of translators and proofreaders able to cover a wide range of language combinations, mostly with Spanish as target language, for the large array of European Union agencies we translate for.
Antonio Tortosa is part of that team. He has been translating for international institutions since 2001, mainly from English, French and German into Spanish. He started collaborating with CPSL in 2005 and is nowadays one of our preferred, most experienced translators/revisers of texts from institutional clients such as the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee and several EU agencies as well as other international bodies such as the United Nations and the Global Fund.
Tell us about how you started working as a translator for international institutions. Which ones have you worked for directly? Were the access tests very strict?
I started in 2001 with a three-month internship at the European Parliament. There was no selection process. These work placements are organised by the Parliament and the Commission and to take part you have to send in your application with details of what you have studied, language skills, time spent abroad, etc. I then spent four years as an in-house translator and reviser for a company that had been selected by the Parliament in a bidding process. I have never worked directly for any of these institutions and there have always been intermediary translation companies.
Do you think that the entrance examinations for obtaining a position as a translator or reviser in an international institution are difficult?
There have not been any entrance examinations held for Spanish translators in the EU for many years. In 1985, when Spain joined the EU, it was easier. Nowadays it is really difficult to pass an entrance examination and to become a translator as a member of the civil service.
What would you say are the difficulties of translating for institutions?
The translations are not overly difficult but you need to pay a lot of attention to detail and the main "difficulty" is the detailed task of searching for and looking up all the references required by looking at reference documents, databases, reports, directives, regulations, etc. The correct terminology needs to be used in each case, checking proper names, place names, quotes and references to other documents.
What are the advantages in comparison to other clients?
The work is usually regular and, in my opinion, these are very interesting texts about current topics.
European institutions such as the Commission or the Parliament, are very strict when it comes to terminology and reference materials, because they have internal translation departments that define the style of all the documents translated. What effect does this have on the work of the translator? Is it helpful or is this excessive reference material an additional burden?
The existence of so much material and the fact that the EU institution documents and web pages are multilingual makes the terminological and reference side of the job easier. It is also true that searching for and looking up documents is usually very time consuming, but in time you learn where to look and you develop a certain "sixth sense", which makes the job easier.
The main problem, in my opinion, is that although internal translation departments set strict rules and standards, lack of homogeneity and terminological incoherence are all too common in these texts, because they are passed from person to person and it is sometimes difficult to decide which option or translation to go with.
It is often said that bureaucracy in institutions makes it difficult to get quick answers to questions, because they get passed around before they reach the right one. What has your experience been? Have you ever had to wait so long for an answer that quality or delivery deadlines have been threatened?
Yes, the answers tend to take longer or they are not much help, but not to the extent that they threaten the quality of the work. What's more, you can always notify the client.
Do you think there are many differences between working directly for an institution and for a translation company that acts as an intermediary, such as CPSL? How would you describe the relationship between translator and client in both cases, and where would you say you feel most comfortable?
I have never worked directly for an institution. I think that in this case, with such a high volume of translation, it is impossible for an independent translator to manage all the work, so these companies are necessary. The invitations to tender are also so demanding that freelance translators cannot bid on their own behalf.
It is sometimes said that translation companies become an obstacle between the final client and translator because they slow down communication. At CPSL, in the case of translations for public bodies, we have project managers and a Linguistic Lead specialised in European Union that filter and resolve the majority of translators' questions directly without having to put them to the final client, but it would be interesting to know how you see the process from the outside. What has your experience with CPSL been in this sense?
As I have already said, given the enormous workload, it is better to have a single point of contact with the client, in this case the institutions. This allows translators to concentrate on the translation, leaving all the bureaucracy and administration to the translation company.
My experience with CPSL has always been good because whenever I have had doubts, questions or problems, CPSL has been helpful and usually able to solve my problems.
Finally, what recommendations would you make to translators wanting to start translating for European institutions?
I think basically they need to keep an open mind and be interested in everything going around them in the world they live in, and stay up-to-date with what's happening in the world. In my opinion, translating this type of text is very interesting and knowing that you are contributing to something important such as the activities and policies of institutions, even though it is just a drop in the ocean, is very gratifying. I think it is more interesting than translating a washing machine instruction manual.