When it comes to global politics, we rarely acknowledge the people that make communication among major political figures around the world possible — government interpreters.
Without government interpreting, global leaders from different linguistic backgrounds would be able to do little more than sit and stare at one another, and international organizations like the UN and EU wouldn’t be able to function.
In short, international politics would be much more confusing than they are now. Scary thought, isn’t it?
Government Interpreters: The 007’s of Interpreting
Government interpreters can be seen as the James Bonds of the linguistic world. After deciding to focus on interpreting within the governmental realm, it’s sometimes necessary to pass certain security clearances and to sign non-disclosure agreements to keep any sensitive information private. Most interpreting jobs involving the government also require years of previous experience and demand special certification.
In general, interpreters who work for the government are at the top of their field – the best of the best. Besides the fact that they are often privy to sensitive information and therefore must be 100 percent trustworthy, interpreters who deal in governmental proceedings must possess truly superior linguistic skills to conduct the simultaneous interpretation usually required in the government arena.
Simultaneous Interpreting by Government Interpreters
With simultaneous interpreting — sometimes called UN-style interpreting, for its ubiquity in UN proceedings — speech is translated from the source to target language in real time. This is significantly more efficient than consecutive interpreting, in which speakers wait silently while interpreters translate each statement.
Given the ability of simultaneous interpreting to keep up with rapid-fire discussions in real time, it’s no surprise simultaneous interpreters are generally preferred in political scenarios. Politicians in the middle of a heated debate are eager to have their voices heard as soon as possible and don’t feel like waiting for an interpreter!
Special Equipment Required for Simultaneous Interpreting
In addition to extremely skilled and experienced interpreters, simultaneous interpreting requires specialized equipment, such as wireless headphones and soundproof booths.
UN-style interpreters conducting simultaneous interpretation need to have the basic technical knowledge necessary to properly utilize these tools.
Government Interpreters: Not Just Politics
Interpreters for governments can be found around the world, and while many of their duties are political — working for the Defense Department in Washington DC, sitting in on UN conferences in The Hague or staffing embassy offices around the world — they aren’t constantly immersed in a clandestine world of top-secret events.
There are occasions that call for UN-style interpreters that are not strictly governmental in nature. In 2010 State Department interpreters accompanied Michelle Obama on a trip to Mexico City, for example, in order to facilitate a roundtable discussion between her and a group of 12 noteworthy Mexican citizens.
Thanks to the simultaneous interpreters in the room, participants in the roundtable discussion were able to share their personal stories with the First Lady. Such an event may not have huge political repercussions, but is still essential to deepening understanding and strengthening ties between countries and cultures.
With their unique skills, government interpreters are able to facilitate both cultural and political connections.