What’s It Like Being a UN Interpreter?

This article about UN interpreters is just hilarious. The interpreter profiled, a British woman named Rebecca Edgington, has Russian as one of her working languages. Apparently, Russian is one of the more difficult languages to work with at the UN:

She says that interpreting from Russian is especially interesting – and high-pressure. Russian delegates often monitor interpreters as they speak – and if the Russians don’t like a word choice or idiomatic phrase, they let the interpreters know, often during the interpretation. She quotes a colleague’s take on the Russians’ instant critiques: “They don’t go in for forensic examinations; they like their victims live.”

The problem with this, says recently retired UN interpreter John Intrator, is that the monitors “can get confused” if the interpretation into English doesn’t follow the word order of the original Russian. “We sometimes have to sacrifice quality to give them what they want”, he says.

I can just picture Russian delegates lambasting the poor interpreters in the middle of a speech. Honestly, I’d be tempted to lambaste right back—after their speeches were finished, of course!

Do read the whole article, as it’s very interesting. A lot of people don’t realize how much work has to go on behind the scenes to make big international organizations function smoothly. I actually work for a multinational conglomerate and I know we hire full-time translators and interpreters to ensure that things work. Ideally, everyone is supposed to know English, but in practice, a lot of the non-American employees who don’t work in the US have not had a chance to learn it.

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Natalie K.

Banker. I like good things like foreign languages (I speak Russian!), history, writing, reading, playing violin, and knitting. I have a fabulous blog about all of the above.