NYCT Feb 2017 Meeting: Interpreting at the U.N. – Nahum Hahn

The February meeting was well attended. It had quite a few nonmembers, who were quite impressed by both the speaker and the NYCT. Mr. Hahn started with a day at the U.N. as an interpreter. No day is typical.

He discussed his work as a verbatim reporter, which was beneficial to his future interpreting work. It taught him all the “jargon” necessary for the work. He explained that all interpreters interpret into their mother tongue only. Most work is simultaneous.

There are six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. If say a Chinese ambassador is giving a speech in Chinese, then the interpreters in the Chinese booth will render the speech into English or French. Then the interpreters in the other booths interpret the speech into their respective languages.

A Day in the Life

Hours are 10-1 and 3-6. Interpreters work in 20 minute shifts. Sometimes they must stay late until a meeting ends. They may also be called in case of emergency meetings, even on the weekend. There is no choice on the schedule. Interpreters work 7 1\2 days per week. Interpreters work for: General Assembly, Security Council, Economic & Development.

Unfortunately, speeches are not given in advance. A point to bear in mind is that not everyone is a good speaker, many speeches are read. The speed of the speech or the rate at which a diplomat is reading can make interpreting a challenge.

Video examples of a couple of different speakers were shown to demonstrate the differences in speakers. Some are easier to interpret for than others. Tone and register is also important. Some are engaging, other speakers can make it a bit harder to stay awake. Sometimes the accent or dialect can be difficult to decipher.

There 193 member states. It has become usual for Meeting Chairmen to limit diplomats to 4 minutes – causing many to rush an entire speech into 4 minutes. This is a disservice to everyone, both interpreters, the audience and even the diplomat giving the speech.

After some anecdotes, Nahum discussed the upcoming interpreter examination. Work experience, required languages were covered.


He then took questions from the membership.

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