Despite European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s assurances that British staff will keep their jobs, it seems unlikely that British translators and interpreters will be able to look to the EU for employment in the future. And with the UK out of the EU, English’s status as the lingua franca of Europe may start to slip, reducing demand for the language – at least if France has any say in the matter.
The bad news
Brexit is about as far from a win for multilingualism as it’s possible to get: an end to free movement of workers across the UK border will affect both Europeans who want to work for British companies, and Brits who want to work in Europe. And while the influence of the US means that English is certain to remain an international lingua franca, it might start being dropped from major European institutions such as banks and law firms. Meanwhile, cut off from the continent and with continued participation in the EU’s flagship Erasmus program uncertain, the UK’s own notoriously poor language skills will only get worse.
It’s not necessarily all doom and gloom, however, particularly for those language professionals lucky enough to have secured a job in Europe before the upheaval caused by the referendum. Across Europe, English is the most common second language, and looks set to remain a common pivot language for translators and interpreters for quite some time. In the longer term, as demand for translations from or into English declines, language diversity on the continent may increase, providing new challenges and opportunities for the language industry.
And even the darkest Brexit cloud has a silver lining: whatever the consequences for the popularity of English in Europe, the process of Britain leaving the EU will generate heaps of new bureaucracy, from treaties to meeting minutes – and someone’s going to have to translate it all.