Francis (Senior Reviser)
How did you learn the languages you use at work?
I studied them at school and through various immersion programmes. After obtaining a joint honours bachelor’s degree in Law and French, I obtained a master’s degree in Translation at the University of Montreal and a diploma in Interpretation at the University of Ottawa.
What attracted you to become a language professional at the United Nations?
Having worked mostly in the private national context, I was interested to see how things worked at the diplomatic and international levels.
How do you find working for the United Nations different from your previous jobs?
In the private sector, the translator is expected to satisfy the needs of a specific client, whereas a United Nations translator’s clientele is the international community as a whole. Translators at the United Nations must therefore be aware of and take into consideration the linguistic, political and diplomatic sensitivities of all Members States of the Organization. The English Translation and Editorial Service at United Nations Headquarters, where I work, is also responsible for writing up summary records of meetings of the Main Committees of the General Assembly and other bodies of the United Nations. This is something that, to my knowledge, is not done by any other international organization, only at the United Nations, and that requires skills that translators elsewhere may not necessarily have or know they have.
What do you consider to be the key traits of a good translator?
A good translator should be curious and always willing to learn and adapt to changing circumstances; should be able to write clearly and succinctly; and should have a keen eye for detail. Above all, United Nations translators should remain humble, because on any given day, they will come across concepts that they’ve never seen before.
What part of your job do you consider the most interesting? Why?
Mentoring younger translators and helping to demystify the translation process, and especially the précis-writing exercise, which may sometimes feel like walking on stilts.
What challenges do you face in your daily work and how do you handle them?
The main challenge is keeping up with technology and changing reflections on a variety of topics of international concern. We have to constantly adapt our working methods to cope with those challenges.
What are some of the most difficult documents you have worked on?
Writing up or revising summary records of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law; translating or revising the reports of Special Rapporteurs on various topics being considered by the International Law Commission, such as, “Succession of States in respect of State responsibility”, “Immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction” and “Peremptory norms of general international law (jus cogens)”, as well as various sanctions-related documents for the Security Council.
What do you think about the evolution of technology in your field of work? How has it affected you?
Technology has made our work easier by helping us work more quickly in many ways. However, we always have to have our wits about us to come up with inventive solutions that cannot be provided by technology, despite the popular belief to the contrary.
How does your work fit into the larger framework of the United Nations?
Our role is to help the Member States communicate with one another and with the United Nations. We serve as a bridge between the Organization and its Member States.
What is the most memorable story about your work?
There are too many to list but the funniest moments come when we as translators pose questions to authors in an effort to come to grips with some of their ideas, in order for us to be able to convey them appropriately in the target language.