Many interpreters aspire to work for the United Nations, it is considered a great accomplishment as an interpreter due to the fact that one must possess a superior level of competency and skill in the art of interpretation in order to even be considered to work for the United Nations. Interpretation is essential in conducting meetings with other governments around the world. Deliberations amongst various countries would not be possible without people there who have the ability to interpret what is being discussed. Working as an interpreter for the UN can provide you with many opportunities for travel all over the world and it will allow you to meet many types of people from different countries and cultures. It takes an inquisitive mind and a hard worker to make it as an interpreter for the UN, the job can be very stressful but the rewards are endless.
Language Requirements, Competencies and Qualifications Needed to Work as an Interpreter for the United Nations
The United Nations has six official languages which include English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese (Mandarin). An interpreter may speak any of the six languages as their mother tongue. If one of these languages is not your mother tongue then finding a job at the UN may be difficult for you. There are many conditions required of each interpreter in order to interpret for the UN. Any English interpreter working for the UN must be able to interpret directly from French, this is mandatory, on top of that the English booth must be able to work from Russian as well as Spanish. It is hard to find a person who has the ability to interpret into and from English, Spanish and Russian, that is why the booth is set up with two interpreters, one with passive French and Russian and the other with passive French and Spanish. “So You Want to Become a United Nations Interpreter,” is a great video that focuses on understanding the multilingual United Nations booth set up, per language.
There are many competencies needed to work as an interpreter for the UN. An interpreter must be completely proficient in the languages that they speak, with the ability to comprehend accents and regional language variations. A thorough knowledge of culture is mandatory when interpreting for people from other cultures. Being able to take into account cultural backgrounds, perspectives and beliefs is needed to render nuances accurately into the target language. Extreme levels of concentration are required for split-second accuracy while interpreting. This can cause a lot of stress for an interpreter, so you will find that the UN abides by their strict policy that interpreters normally work in teams of two or three and they switch off interpreting every 30 minutes. It is essential that the interpreter works well with others in a team setting because you will be collaborating on interpretations more often than not due to the strenuous nature of the job.
In addition to the competencies needed there are quite a few additional qualifications required to work as an interpreter for the UN as well. You will need to pass the United Nations competitive examination for interpreters. These exams are scheduled per the needs of the organization. So if you are wanting to work as an interpreter for the UN then it would be very beneficial to check the UN website on a regular basis for announcements regarding career opportunities and exam dates that are in your language specialization. You must also have a degree in interpretation with one year of study devoted solely to interpretation. You may also have a degree in a related field from a university in which you are taking classes that are being taught in the secondary language that you are learning. English, French, Russian and Spanish interpreters must have complete proficiency in at least two of the other UN languages. If you are an Arabic interpreter then it is required that you have a complete understanding of either English or French. If you happen to be a Chinese interpreter then it is a must for you to know English and it is highly regarded if you are able to speak another one of the United Nation’s other main languages.
In the Beginning and A Typical Day
Many interpreters who work for the United Nations will tell you that they were very excited as well as nervous when they first started working. It is a massive achievement, one that is not attainable for most people. Through all the excitement, nerves will come into play, it is a tremendous responsibility to interpret on a political level and the UN holds it’s interpreters to very high standards. Working as an interpreter can provide many opportunities to see the world, meet all types of people and witness various cultural exchanges during interpretations on a political level.
An interpreter working for the United Nations will normally interpret for no more than seven meetings per week. The meetings last around three hours. Interpreters will work in teams of two or in the case or Arabic or Chinese interpreters, teams of three. The team members switch off with one another every 30 mins to help with the strenuous work of interpretation. The United Nations is very strict on the amount of meetings you interpret for per week. The amount of focus it takes to interpret is outstanding and it can really overwhelm and tire an interpreter, causing the interpretation to be diluted. Meetings can be assigned throughout the week, so maybe you have a highly intense political meeting on Monday morning that lasts three hours, and then you are not back at work until Tuesday where you have a three hour meeting in the morning as well as in the afternoon. Your meetings will be set up according to when and where your specialized interpretation skills are needed.
Working as an Interpreter for Human Rights Missions in the United Nations
While working at the United Nations as an interpreter, you may have the fortune to be asked to accompany a team on a human rights mission. This is a great opportunity, that is filled with many learning experiences that should be taken advantage of while working in the field of interpretation. Overall the missions are designed to go to a country in which it is believed that human rights have been abused or violated and collect information about the allegations of the violation. This may mean interpreting during interviews with victims of rape, torture, abuse or murder. You will also be interpreting for interviews and conversations with authorities of that country. While there, you are on a fact-finding mission, you’re not there to take sides you just need to help with interpretation in order to find out all the facts in relation to the investigation. You may meet with police officials, members of the army or possible the president of the country that you are in. Interpreting for a human rights mission can be very enriching as well as eye opening. These situations will be extreme and sometimes mentally burdensome in nature but it allows you first hand, the opportunity of witnessing the world changing and adapting on a political level, with the aid of your interpretations in order to communicate.
Rewards and Challenges of Working as an Interpreter for the United Nations
There are many challenges of working as an interpreter for the United Nations. To begin with the level of proficiency and accuracy needed to interpret for politically charged meetings can be particularly stressful. One must not only keep up with the speed of the conversation but ensure that they are able to deliver correct political terminology, accuracy of cultural nuances and theoretical concepts as well as have a clear understanding for various accents and speaking styles. It will be essential that you continue to train yourself throughout your career to stay up to date on various current events around the world.
Along with challenges come rewards. Working as an interpreter for the United Nations can lead you to many places all over the world, meeting people of all walks of life who need your interpretation skills in order to understand one another. You will be exposed to how the government works and you will be learning about many political subjects that are going on in the world today. On a more fundamental level you will always be in a learning environment helping people communicate and understand one another. You will constantly, throughout your whole career as an interpreter, be feeding your mind new information to stay up on current events in the world and that makes for a cultured and intellectual person whose insight is invaluable. Overall there are pros and cons to any job but attaining the level needed to work as an interpreter for the United Nations is an accomplishment to be proud of and will provide you with many rewarding experiences while you bridge language gaps on a political level.
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