• Abby

Life as a trainee at the European Parliament


With little more than a month left in Luxembourg (it’s going so fast!), I realised that I haven’t written much about what this traineeship actually involves – where we work, the texts we translate, the importance of coffee. So here is a short account of life as a translation trainee at Parliament!

24 Official Languages

One of the core concepts of the EU is multilingualism, which is designed to make European politics accessible and democratic. EU citizens have the right to make a written request or complaint to Parliament and receive a reply in their own language (a petition), MEPs can speak in the language of their choice, and legislation needs to be available in all the official languages so that anyone can access it. This leads to a big demand for translation, which is where we come in…

Life in the English & Irish Unit

Translation at the European Parliament is mostly done in Luxembourg, in these towers…


Language Units are composed of a team of translators who translate into their mother tongue, and there is one for each of the official languages. I am in the English and Irish unit (Irish became an official language in 2007, but with a temporary derogation, meaning that legal documents are not required to be translated into Irish). Between us, the four English unit trainees translate from French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (plus Arabic as a bonus language!) into English, and our work is always revised by a senior translator. The feedback and suggestions we receive from our revisers is one of the best things about the traineeship, even though seeing all the corrections and suggestions took a bit of getting used to! I feel like I have come a long way already, and hope to continue challenging myself and to learn as much as I can over the rest of my time here.

The nature of traineeships can vary from unit to unit. Since most legislation is drafted in English, we don’t have many legislative documents to translate. In our little office, most of the documents we translate are Written Questions, short texts written by MEPs to other European Institutions and Bodies (such as the Commission or the Council) to hold them to account or request information, usually relating to issues in their constituency. They cover a variety of issues, from measures against terrorism to imported tomatoes, and each MEP writes in their own style, so translating questions brings up a wide range of translation challenges. We also translate minutes from meetings of the political groups or delegations, newsletter articles, petitions from EU citizens and requests for the European Parliament’s patronage.  

I’ve been very lucky with my three office buddies; freelancing will seem very solitary after this! Besides the good company, it’s useful to have someone there to read over your work, or to be able to discuss a particularly challenging phrase. Most of the time, our office is also fully stocked with chocolate and/or cake, which is very important for the translation process.

…. and coffee?

In this respect, I guess not much has changed since my freelancing days. Love of (or addiction to?) caffeine (and cake) seems to be what unites translators, no matter where they come from!


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