The WSJ had a post this week describing how Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski may have cut corners in the process of hiring a speech-writer, in favor of quickly getting someone on board who spoke “idiomatically flawless English.”
Having a fair and competitive hiring process for government positions is always the goal, but I understand Sikorski’s rationale, as does WSJ writer Marynia Kruk:
“And yet, as someone who has worked as a translator in Poland, I can sympathize with Mr. Sikorski. Most Poles can’t distinguish a good English translation from a bad one. Most of English translations of Polish press releases are mediocre. English translations of museum piece descriptions are worse, filled with spelling mistakes and awkward sentence structure. Since most of the decision-makers who commission translations don’t speak English well, they can’t see the point in spending a little extra on a native speaker.
Mr. Sikorski, having spent many years in the UK and the U.S., can tell the difference. On the other hand, it seems hard to imagine the ministry not having a whole department of top-flight translators, and I can’t comment on the quality of their work.”
In my research I have found the translations on the various sites of Poland’s military to be wanting. Example here, and I’m particularly nonplussed that their ISAF contingent only sporadically translates their news items into English (and even then not always completely, and certainly not in “idiomatically perfect English”).
Why is Poland falling short in the world’s lingua franca? It’s especially confusing because in my travels throughout Europe I always considered Poland to be one of the places you’re most likely to find English speakers with near-native proficiency. What’s going on Polska? Where are you hiding all these smart multi-lingual kids and why aren’t they translating Poland’s work and accomplishments into English for all the world to share?