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Department for General Assembly and Conference Management

French Translation Service

Although French is commonly referred to as the language of romance, it has long been known in world affairs as the original language of diplomacy and statecraft, which accounts for it having had pride of place in most international organizations of centuries past.  Translating into and from French correspond with the advent of modern international organizations, including the United Nations.  French is along with English, both an official and a working language of the United Nations.

At Headquarters and the three other major duty stations of the United Nations, as well as at some of its regional commissions, translators from across the so-called Francophonie (the French-speaking world) strive painstakingly to render in “la langue de Molière” documents dealing with the whole range of issues of concern to the United Nations, including international peace and security, peacekeeping and peacemaking, budgetary and financial questions, international law, human rights, drugs and crime, environment and development, etc.

Furthermore, because French is a working language of the Secretariat, the French Translation Service in New York has a comparatively more varied workload than the other five Translation Services.  Indeed, in addition to regular parliamentary documents, it is responsible for translating all administrative issuances, including materials of the internal United Nations administrative justice system, which came into effect on 1 July 2009 (A/RES/62/228).

French-language translators hail from countries as diverse as Algeria, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Lebanon, Madagascar, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland, and Viet Nam but have “le français en partage”, and avoid all regional usages of French in trying to translate into standard French as sanctioned by the “Académie française”.  Beyond the six official languages, the staff can translate from Catalan, German, Italian, Mandinka, Portuguese, Pular, Vietnamese, Wolof, and Yoruba.

It is a widely held misconception that translators labour in anonymity.  In fact the opposite is the case: “les paroles s’envolent, les écrits restent” (verba volant, scripta manent).  Take the hallowed phrase “à préserver les générations futures du fléau de la guerre qui deux fois en l’espace d’une vie humaine a infligé à l’humanité d’indicibles souffrances” (to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind).  Language like this enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and historic Security Council resolutions has gone down in history in no small measure thanks to the efforts of French translators at the United Nations.

 

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Last Update: 23 May 2011 / Ann GETZINGER