How to Prepare for the United Nations Interpreter Exam

As many readers will already be aware, the UN is currently recruiting English, Spanish and French interpreters for its headquarters in New York and other duty stations (you can find details of the posting here). Unfortunately for those who are just hearing the news now, the deadline for applying has already passed. However, there will undoubtedly be some interpreters out there who have submitted their applications and are now wondering how to make the most of their time until the tests are held later this spring.

Now, while I haven’t actually applied to take the test, I have to confess I was curious to see what sort of information and resources are available to help candidates prepare for the big day. So I started digging, and here’s what I found.

Oddly enough, a cursory search of the UN careers website didn’t turn up much (whilst the site is jam-packed with interesting information, I find it a bit hard to navigate effectively to find exactly what I want).  A quick Google query led me to this article: How to Pass the United Nations Interpreter Examination. I found the article informative enough, and it included a few useful links at the bottom. However, it was nothing compared to what I unearthed next…

On the Interpreter Training Resources website, my site of choice for all things interpreting-related, I found a link sporting the innocent title of “UN Tips”. Well, what did I find when I clicked on it but a direct link to the United Nations’ own official guidance document on how to prepare for their interpreter exams!

UnitedNations1

Thank you, Andy! What would we do without you…

The full title of this little gem is Examinations for Interpreters* and I’m happy to say it delivers exactly what the title promises. The guide is published on the UN’s Language Outreach portal (I didn’t go back to the UN Careers site to see if there was a link through to this portal, but I have to hope there is one and I just wasn’t clever enough to find it).

The guide gives detailed, step-by-step suggestions of how to prepare for the exams using material found on the various UN websites. There are enough ideas there to keep even the eagerest of beavers busy for the next few months until test day!

The only downside to the resource that I could find were the statistics they gave in the right-hand column (UN hopefuls, please avert your eyes now): there were 38,231 applicants to the 55 examinations held between 2005 and 2009, and only 10.6 successful candidates were placed on the roster after each exam. Gulp.

So, there you have it. Time for you aspiring UN interpreters to get practicing so you can beat the odds… and time for me to stop blogging and get back to my real job!

*Update for 2016: the UN language careers website has been revamped and all information on Examinations for Interpreters, including the Tips for Preparation I described above, can now be found at this link. This blog post has been amended in part to reflect the changes.

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Public Speaking for Interpreters

I was digging around the other day, looking for good material to use in my workshop on communication skills for interpreters. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I found myself (once again!) on the website of the National Network for Interpreting. The NNI site is a lot like the Interpreter Training Resources site and Lourdes de Rioja’s video blog, A Word in Your Ear: no matter how often you visit, you always seem to find something new. Aren’t we interpreters lucky that these people take the time to prepare and compile all of these resources for us!

Anyway, what I want to share with you briefly here today are two resources prepared by the people at NNI to help train interpreting students in public speaking skills.

She seems to have it all figured out - except for maybe the dress code

The first is a slide presentation called Good public speaking – specific skills that walks students through the skills required for good public speaking. The best part comes on the fourth slide, where we are shown two short videos – the first is a case study of how NOT to present a consecutive interpretation, and the second is, of course, an example of how to get it right. The whole exercise takes only about 15 minutes to run through, and it is great for new students who might not have thought about the importance of communication skills in interpreting before.

The second resource, called Good public speaking – register, is a series of slides looking at the use of register in speaking. Here, students are asked to listen to a few short speeches given in different registers, and then given a short quiz (well, two, actually) about what they’ve learned.  I won’t tell you how I did on the quiz part because it’s too embarrassing – maybe if I had actually listened to the speeches, instead of just skipping straight ahead to the questions, I might have done a bit better. Anyway, try it out for yourself and see how you do.

More interpreting fun next week! I’ve got a couple of great guest posts lined up for you, so please stay tuned…

The Interpreting Student’s Reading List

One should never underestimate the value of book learning. It’s true that almost everything can be found on the internet these days (more on that in next week’s post), but that doesn’t mean that the printed word no longer has anything to offer.

If you read my post on general knowledge, you will already know that I am a big fan of books as a form of background reading and as a way to broaden your knowledge base. Today, I want to look at “how-to” books on interpreting techniques which I consider to be must-reads for anyone who is studying conference interpreting.

The One and Only

I’ll come clean right now: Roderick Jones is my hero. My former students know it, and my future ones will as well. If you only read one how-to book on interpreting in your whole life, let it be Conference Interpreting Explained. Buy it, read it, mark it up, sleep with it under your pillow. And when your teachers give you some bit of advice that you feel needs corroboration, look it up in Jones’ book – chances are, it’s there!

Conference Interpreting Explained is available new from the publisher St Jerome, or used on Amazon. Trust me, it is the best 18 quid (20€) you will ever spend!

The Classic

You can’t talk about how-to books on interpreting without mentioning La prise des notes en interprétation consecutive by Jean François Rozan, originally published in 1956 and considered by many to be the definitive guide to consecutive note-taking. As far as I can tell, the original French version is now out of print, but thanks to the efforts of our friends in Poland, there is now an English and Polish translation available. At 35 zloty (about 8€), it’s a real steal.

The New Kid on the Block

Andrew Gillies, interpreter trainer at ISIT Paris, coordinator of AIIC Training and the man behind the Interpreter Training Resources website and Facebook page, has somehow also managed to find the time to write books on interpreting (note: the “new kid” moniker only applies because Gillies came after Rozan and Jones, but that doesn’t make his works any less relevant). In addition to being responsible for the English translation of Rozan, Gillies is the author of Note-Taking for Consecutive Interpreting: A Short Course. A little birdie has told me that there may be a new book coming out soon, so watch this space for news of that.

But wait, there’s more …

Of course, those aren’t all the books that have been written about conference interpreting technique. There is a much more complete list of recommended reading, complete with book reviews, to be found on the Interpreter Training Resources site. Also, the inimitable Nataly Kelly has prepared a list of books for interpreters and translators right on Amazon – and you can purchase them all with just one click of the mouse!

However, I have chosen to highlight just a few titles in this post, because I know that if I tell my students to go out and read dozens of books on interpreting, they may feel overwhelmed and end up not reading any at all. If I insist, on the other hand, that there are a handful of books which they absolutely shouldn’t miss out on, they might just go out and read one or two of them.

Of course, if readers have favourite books of their own that they’d like to share with me, and don’t see them on the lists above, please let me know in the comments section. I’m always on the lookout for fresh material!

In my next post, I am going to look at online resources for interpreting students. I will be holding a workshop on this very topic this coming Friday, where I have asked students to come with some favourite links of their own – so my hope is that in an upcoming post, I’ll be able to share with you what I’ve learned.