Working Language for national and international meetings: English – Proposition Communication Workgroup Brussels november 4, 2011

Proposal: Daniël Verhoeven


Meetings in Brussels tend to be unilingual, bilingual or to become a disaster.  My experience with assemblies in Brussels is limited, but one I assisted was French only.  No translation at all.

The Assembly on the 8th of October, when the Marches from the South arrived at Park Saint Elisabeth, used translators for French, Spanish and English. So it took plenty of time and ended in a rupture… It didn’t work. I’m in favour of sequential translation when only two languages are involved. But…

When national or international meetings take place inBrusselsone should at least consider what language the participants have in common. This will be English most of the time. When marching with the Meseta March, I was struck by the fact that French people and Spanish people did not understand each other. They had to use English as a bridge.

Looking at the population of Brussels itself makes us conclude that the second most spoken language of it’s inhabitants is English also.

See BAETEN, GUY, (2009), “Territorialising Brussels: Belgian Devolution and the Spatial Conundrum of a Bilingual Capital”, Divided Cities/Contested States,, University ofLund, Department of Human Geography, Working Paper No. 14, 2009

No of people speaking in 2006 which language

French 95.55

English 35.40

Dutch 28.23

Spanish 7.39

Arabic 6.36

(Baeten, Guy, 2009)

Looking at those figures we must consider that we need at least 5 translators instead of 3. Using sequential translation with 5 translators is no longer feasible.

So, national and international meetings tend to expand in time beyond reason. That’s the main reason why we should take another approach… and we must be aware about the fact that boredom is striking our assemblies.


Use only one language, English as a bridge to be the working language at national and international assemblies


Instead of sequential translation by translators we should use simultaneous translation by translators whispering for each language group that is present.

One might object: “What are you going to do if someone wants to address the meeting in his own language?” I do not see a problem there. He can do this perfectly. The translator then will assist translating his intervention into English, The people needing translation into theit native language do not need translation  because they do understand the language of the speaker.



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