Tag Archives: languages

Use your language, use your English

This post was contributed by Bryony Merritt from Birkbeck’s Department of External Relations.

Although I was not able to participate in this summer’s ‘Use your language, Use your English’ summer school, I was still interested to hear about Jamie Allen’s work as Head of English Translation at the International Olympic Committee (IoC), based in Lausanne, Switzerland. This is surely the dream job of many a modern foreign languages graduate. (Jamie’s admission that he has been at the IoC for 25 years confirmed this suspicion).

Jamie gave an interesting account of how translation at the IoC, and at the Games themselves, work. The IoC relies on a small pool of permanently employed translators and no interpreters. Instead, they rely on freelance support around key events.

The organising committees for the individual Games require a larger team. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has 75 translators and interpreters under contract, covering 11 languages. A further 28 languages are covered by volunteers. Each Games will have its own Languages Services Committee as part of the overall organising committee, and much work goes on between Games to ensure that the knowledge gained by each committee is passed on, so that each team does not have to start from scratch.

Although his team has little to do with the actual delivery of the Games, Jamie was quick to reassure us that they have plenty to be working on – they are currently doing work around six Olympic Games: 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and two Youth Olympic Games.

The official languages of the IoC are French and English, so much of Jamie’s team’s work involves ensuring that all official documents are available in both languages. It was interesting to hear that when Jamie arrived at the IoC French was the more used of the two languages. Now, the number of speakers of English as their native, or first foreign language has greatly increased and a larger proportion of Jamie’s work involves proof-reading and revising texts written in English (often by non-native speakers), rather than translating into English from French or another language.

Jamie gave some interesting examples that demonstrate the vast variety within the types of documents that he works on. One day it might be a speech that the president of the IoC will deliver to a UN Committee, and the next minutes of a meeting about the maximum permitted size of manufacturers’ logos on swimwear!

Having come across a lot of ‘howlers’ over the years, Jamie and his team have created a style-guide, which aims to simplify writing in English for their colleagues.  Having corrected dates from 1rd January and 3th April, umpteen times, they decided to officially move to a number-month convention (i.e. 3 April).

During the questions and answers one attendee was concerned about the use of volunteer translators and interpreters at the Games. Jamie reassured us that the individual Games organising committees do invest a significant amount in professional translation/interpretation services, but that volunteers are on hand to assist with matters such as showing guests to the correct seats and giving directions to and within the venues. It is a way of allowing people to become involved in the Games – as with the volunteers who are performing in the opening and closing ceremonies and carrying out various other tasks at the Games.

Many of the questions inevitably focussed on qualifications, experience and tips for getting a job in translation. Unfortunately for all of us, the lure of skiing in the Swiss Alps and summers by Lake Geneva means that turnover at the IoC is not high and there may not be any openings there for a while!

You can read more about the rest of the ‘Use your language, use your English’ summer school in blog posts here and here.