No getting lost in translation

No getting lost in translation

A teenager who has won a prestigious European translators’ award, spends her free time practising music, has won an international scholarship and whose idea of weekend partying is attending classical concerts, is surely every parents’ dream.

Yet Laura Cioffi, 17, is very real: she is a rising star with an impressive determination.

Ms Cioffi, a student at Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary School in Naxxar, last month was the Maltese winner of the coveted EU competition, Juvenes Translatores, which rewards the best young translators in EU countries and is aimed at promoting multilingualism.

Six schools from Malta took part in the competition last November, which saw up to 3,300 teenagers from all over Europe testing their language skills. The competition took place on the same day in all member states and the contest was held at the same time in all the schools, from Kittilä in Finnish Lapland to Victoria.

“My school language coordinator encouraged me to take part, and I said, why not?” Ms Cioffi said.

Participants could choose to translate the same text from and into any of the 23 official EU languages. “I chose to translate the text from English to Maltese, as the Maltese language is my strong point,” she enthused.

The texts were later marked by professional translators at the European Commission and Ms Cioffi’s translation was selected as the best from Malta.

The Commission’s field officer in Malta, Brian Buhagiar, said this was no mean feat: “Translating is like solving riddles. A translator has to constantly juggle the words to strive for a solution.”

Part of the winning prize was a free three-day trip to Brussels for the award ceremony. Ms Cioffi was chuffed to be chosen as one of five, out of the 27 winners from all member states, to give a welcome speech to the Commissioner. Ironically, she had to give her speech in English as there were no interpreters for the Maltese language available on the day.

“I spoke about the importance of language as a communication tool. I really believe in the importance of Maltese in the EU. It is the language with which we can express our emotions and our thoughts clearly,” she said.

She speaks with a wisdom beyond her years, is incredibly articulate and her love of the Maltese language gives her the air of a young female version of Oliver Friggieri. She reads avidly in Maltese and lists Trevor Zahra, Alfred Palma and Mario Azzopardi as a few of her favourite authors.

After this experience she would certainly consider translation as a career. However, her real passion lies in music: she has been studying flute at the Johann Strauss School of Music in Valletta for the past 11 years. She has just won a scholarship to read for a Bachelor in Music at the Edinburgh Napier University and will be starting this September. She also plays the flute with various band clubs and teaches the clarinet at the Żurrieq band club.

What time does she do her studying?

“On the bus... It takes me one-and-a-half hours to get to Żurrieq from school in Naxxar and I use that time to study. Either that, or I just sleep.”

Does she go out at weekends?

“Yes. Mostly my friends and I go to music concerts.”

Her father said she was very determined to succeed in the music sphere: “She has already been to auditions abroad. We know her aim is to work abroad. We certainly won’t be standing in her way,” Mr Cioffi said. She has her plans all clearly laid out – there is no chance of anything getting lost in translation.

Students born in 1994 are eligible to take part in the 2011 Juvenes Translatores Competition which will be held on November 24, 2011. For more information check out or e-mail

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