The Interpretation Service is composed of staff interpreters with diverse backgrounds. At peak periods when there are many meetings, it hires freelance interpreters to meet the increasing demand. To become an interpreter at the United Nations, one needs to have a university degree – preferably in interpretation or a related language field – and a thorough knowledge of the working languages. One must also have passed the relevant United Nations competitive examinations for language positions. Ideally, an interpreter must have an inquisitive mind and a thirst for knowledge and be able to keep pace with world events and the changes in language.
The Interpretation Service at United Nations Headquarters facilitates communication at intergovernmental meetings by providing interpretation from and into the six official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Its work covers a wide range of subjects including peace and security, sustainable development, human rights and the environment.
The top priority for the Interpretation Service is to provide quality interpretation to the meeting bodies at any time and in any place where such services are required. The Service faces several challenges. Among them is the shortage of qualified interpreters in certain language combinations. Another is the speed at which statements are delivered. In order to ensure the widest possible participation in each meeting, there is a strict time limit on the length of statements. However, speakers tend to deliver their statements at a seemingly breakneck speed to gain more coverage. When the speed of delivery surpasses 120 words per minute, the task of providing accurate and complete interpretation becomes exceedingly challenging.