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 Home > Event-related > European SF > FSE-ESF 2004 > Languages - ESF2004

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Languages at the ESF

(Date: 7 August 2004)

Paper presented to the UK ESF Committee, regarding the replacement of the concept of "official" languages, with "represented" languages (01/04/04)

Languages and the 2004 ESF, to take place in London in October


The Babels network was formed in the runup to the 2002 ESF in Florence, and
provided 300 volunteer simultaneous interpreters at short notice for that
event. For the 2003 ESF in Paris, Babels provided around 1000 simultaneous interpreters.

For the 2003 ESF, the total budget for Babels’ activities, such as expenses
for the volunteer interpreters and translators, and the activities of Babels
co-ordinators, was around €400,000. Expenses included reimbursement of travel
expenses to the ESF, free accommodation (Babels interpreters had first call on
the accommodation offered by local residents), free travel in Paris for the
duration of the ESF, provision of tea, coffee, and snacks in the interpreters
restrooms, as well as allowing Babels’ European co-ordinators to meet by
funding travel costs to some of their meetings.

The average travel cost per interpreter was about €230. One of the objectives
of Babels for the 2003 ESF was to enable interpreters to come from as wide a
variety of locations as possible. Babels also attempted to have an equal
spread of professional / experience interpreters, occasional, interpreters, and
first-time interpreters.

When considering the costs of providing interpretation using volunteer
interpreters, the cost of hiring professional conference interpreters should
also be taken into account (between £400 and £700 per day); without these
volunteer interpreters the European Social Forum would be a very different animal.

Liaising with ESF working groups

At the 2003 ESF, the language requirements for the plenaries and seminars were not known until a relatively short time before the ESF itself, while
recruiting interpreters had to start much earlier. This meant that matching the
interpreters available to the needs of the different meetings was somewhat
problematic. To try to ensure that the interpreters available are as closely
matched as possible to the needs of the plenaries and seminars Babels will
need to liaise with the ESF Programme group. So far both Julie Stoll and myself
have attended some meetings of the programme group, but Danny Cooley is currently the main Babels programme co-ordinator and attends most of the programme group meetings.

Babels expects to have at least one representative at the programme group
meeting on April 16th, at the European Assembly in Istanbul.

Languages and the ESF

At the 2003 ESF, there were five “official” languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Italian) and an attempt was made to provide interpretation in at least four of these languages in each session. A number of other languages were used in addition to these, but these were widely viewed as “supplementary” languages.

At the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, the concept of an “official” language was broadened, and there were around 15 languages classed as “official”. For some of these, it is thought that this increased the number of attendees who spoke a particular language.

The current thinking within Babels regarding the choice of languages reflects the principles below. However, Babels does need more time before coming up with a detailed proposal. In the meantime we welcome your input and suggestions.

 1 The abolition of the distinction between “official” and “unofficial” languages

 2 More languages to be represented more often and a better match of languages offered and needed than was possible at the 2003 ESF

 3 Better representation of eastern European languages in line with the ESF’s desire to attract more speakers and delegates from eastern Europe

 4 Discussion of the role of languages from immigrant communities and to what extent Babels can provide interpreters in these languages

 5 Discussion of the role of sign language and to what extent Babels can provide sign language interpretation

 6 Following these points, the recognition that the choice of languages available can shape the ESF in terms of origins of delegates and speakers (as was the case at the WSF in Mumbai)

 7 Given the financial constraints for the 2004 ESF, Babels will aim to find as many interpreters from the London are as possible (their travel and accommodation demands should be minimal). However, we would aim to bring interpreters from eastern European countries as a priority over western Europe: this proposal needs more discussion within Babels.

Of course, given the financial constraints already referred to, a balance will need to be struck between inclusivity, practicalities, and cost when recruiting interpreters.

It appears that the 2004 ESF will have a reduced number of plenaries and seminars compared to the 2003 ESF. This will result in fewer interpreters being required (and consequently a lower level of overall related expenses), although it is too early to give an exact number.

(John Street - Babels UK)

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