The United Nations is an international and intergovernmental organisation which was established to promote international co-operation. With finances coming from mainly voluntary contributions from member states, its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster and armed conflict.
For many who have had the chance to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York, they all agree that it’s a melting pot of languages, culture and nationalities. This diverse mix however does not stop this noble global body from deliberating on recommendations for peace and security, election of members to organs, admission, suspension, expulsion of members and budgetary matters. With the organisation adopting six official languages namely Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, the role of interpreters to simultaneously interpret is very essential in the process.
The standard requirement for a six language meeting is 14 interpreters, three per booth for Arabic and Chinese, two each for English, French, Russian and Spanish. In addition to simultaneous interpretation, the staff of the Service will be called upon to provide consecutive interpretation at certain meetings. They speak after each participant has spoken, interpreting his or her words as precisely as possible so that the others in the meeting can follow the exchange. Instances of this type of interpretation include meetings of Heads of State or Government with the Secretary-General, consultations with the President of the Security Council or the President of the Economic and Social Council on specific political situations, official missions and special investigations overseas, press conferences and occasional special events.
From the above, it’s clear to see that the United Nations operations heavily depend on the Interpretation industry. On the part of the interpreter, this role demands the ability to recognise, understand and in a split second find the right word in another language for any of the myriad issues. These issues range from political discourse, legal affairs, climate change, human rights as well as economic and social development. This means interpreters must constantly maintain and improve their language skills and their awareness of new developments in current affairs.