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  • Writer's pictureMaría Palomares Tarí


Counting with offices in 193 countries and 37,000 employees, the United Nations is the world’s largest universal multilateral international organization.

Consequently, the UN is also one of the world’s largest employers of language professionals, who work at the forefront of international affairs facilitating communication and decision-making among Member States. Coinciding with the United Nations Day (which marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter), today we’ll solve some doubts about the role of these professionals as a tribute to them.

What it takes to become a translator or interpreter in the UN?

There are six official languages of the UN. These are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. For a translator to become part of the UN, there are several language requirements that need to be fulfill. According to the UN Careers website, they need ‘perfect command of one relevant official language of the United Nations; this is considered the candidate’s main language. Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish translators must have excellent knowledge of at least two other official languages, as tested by the relevant United Nations competitive examination. English translators must also have excellent knowledge of at least two other official languages, as tested by the relevant United Nations competitive examination, one of which must be French. Chinese translators must have excellent knowledge of English; knowledge of an additional official language is desirable’.

Quite impressive, right?

What is the role of translators at the UN?

Following official UN statements, the importance of translated information goes far beyond the conference room. The UN edits and publishes documents in all its official languages, so translations of major documents are often cited by the media, quoted in statements and incorporated into legislation. Translators and précis-writers’ job is to translate documents from two or more official languages into their main language.

In order to do that, they strive to make the United Nations documents faithful to the original, respect established terminology (when it exists), and be readily understood by a reader of the language from any part of the world. The documents they translate cover a broad range of technical, political, scientific, social, economic and legal issues.

The UN is one of the few institutions that supports language professionals and recognizes the importance of their work for global security and world peace.

Happy United Nations Day to you all! Dedicated to all those language professionals that make international cooperation possible every day.


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