The 6 Most In-Demand Languages for Interpreters at the UN

In most careers there is a top position or a dream company people strive for. For many in the interpretation field, being a conference interpreter at the United Nations in Geneva is the goal.

The UN is the largest organization focused on international cooperation in the world. As such, many languages are represented in its daily operations. Freelance workers can expect to be paid anywhere from $7,336 to $17,229 a month while working in Geneva, according to the UN’s short-term translators rates for 2016.

What Does it Take to be an Interpreter for the UN?

UN Conference interpreting is fast-paced, high-pressure, and highly technical in subject matter. As such, interpreters need to be superb at simultaneous interpretation, and have extraordinary language abilities.

Subject matter expertise is also important – but in this case, it is best for interpreters to know a lot of information about a lot of different topics (as opposed to a lot about one topic). Topics could be medical in nature, or they could be related to politics and human rights – and you could be expected to interpret about both in the same assignment.

As for specific language requirements, those interested in being an interpreter for the UN will need to have near perfect, native level proficiency in one of the six official languages of the UN (listed below), and an advanced grasp on two other official languages as well.

What Languages Are The Most In Demand?

Most In-Demand Languages for InterpretersFor official proceedings and conferences, members speak in one (or more) of the six official languages of the United Nations. Therefore, interpreters will be required for those six languages, so other attendees who may not speak them can follow along.

What are the official languages of the UN?

The 6 Official Languages of the UN

  • English
  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • French
  • Russian
  • Spanish

These are also the languages in which Language Competitive Examinations (LCE) are offered. These tests are mandatory to apply for interpretation and translation work with the UN.

For now, these are the only official languages for the UN into which all documents and proceedings must be translated or interpreted. This does not mean that they will remain the only ones however – combined they don’t even cover half of the world’s population in terms of languages spoken.

So what languages are being considered for potential UN status?

Languages with the Potential of Becoming Official UN Languages

  • Hindi
  • Bengali
  • Portuguese
  • Turkish

Interpreters, who are native speakers or advanced level speakers of these languages, may find that there is a need for them at the conference interpreting level in the UN in the future.

How Do You Become a Professional Interpreter for the UN?

In order to become an interpreter for the UN, you must pass one of the Language Competitive Examinations. If you are successful you will be added to the UN’s list of vendors and potentially contacted when they have a need for your particular language pair and industry expertise.

In order to take an LCE you must either have a degree in interpretation from a qualified University, or else have acquired 200 days’ worth of interpreting experience. You must also be no older than 56 years of age to ensure there is time to advance career-wise before the mandatory retirement age (65).

The LCE consists of two parts – you must apply and be invited to take the first part after which, if you pass, you will move on to the second part.

How Do You Begin a Career in Interpretation in General?

Most In-Demand Languages for the UN InterpretersIf you’re interested in getting an introduction into the field of interpretation, interpreter training courses are good options if a degree from a University is not attainable for one reason or another.

Interpreter training programs generally teach the basic practice of interpretation, as well as the interpreter’s code of ethics. Being bilingual is not enough to be an interpreter for the UN, or even for community work. You must be trained in both subject matter, as well as the art of interpretation.

For those aspiring to be UN interpreters, a training program will not be sufficient. It will merely act as an introduction to interpreting. However, you can use training from interpreter programs to go on and gain professional experience, or take interpreter certification examinations to help elevate your career.

Language Connections Offers four different Interpreter Training Programs:

  • Medical Interpreter Training
  • Advanced Medical Interpreter Training
  • Legal Interpreter Training
  • Business & Community Interpreter Training

Each program runs for seven weeks, and covers interpreting basics as well as required terminology and concepts for each specific field. Classes are small in size, and cover industry information and interpreting practice in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Haitian Creole, and English.

The best course of action for becoming an interpreter for the UN is to create a career plan. For those who do not have a prior background in interpretation, this plan can begin with an Interpreter Training Program, and advance on to more studies and professional experience from there.

Interested in learning more about our interpreter training programs? Contact our program coordinator today!

Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our interpreter training programs: Medical Interpreter Training, Legal Interpreter Training or Community & Business Interpreter Training.

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