Guide to Preparing for the Competitive Examination for the Recruitment of United
This document offers suggestions on how to
prepare for the United Nations competitive examination for English interpreters.
The study materials should be adjusted to fit one’s language combination.
However, the step in parts 1 and 2 should ensure a thorough and methodical
process for the preparation. While the United Nations competitive examination
for interpreters is among the most rigorous, it also lends itself to strong
preparation due to the wealth of well-organized, easy-to-use information
available on the United Nations website.
Part 1: A complete
interpretation study session
The following steps make use of
the impressive volume of UN meetings (dialogues, statements, remarks) available
through the UN webcast. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these
resources. Start by going to:
Near the bottom right of the screen there
is a link that says, “Real Player needed to view webcasts, click here for free
download.” If you don’t have Real Player on your computer, download it now. It’s
quick, free, and easy.
Then click on “Archives of previous webcasts”.
That brings you to “Archived webcasts", which offers a list of different United
Nations bodies and their meetings together with a wealth of material for your
For the purposes of this study guide, click on the link to “General
Assembly 64th General Debate (2009)”. Here you will get six days of world
leaders addressing a global audience.
If you click on a speaker/country,
you get a page that offers, in many cases, the webcast video in the original
language, the webcast video in English (interpretation) when the original was
not English, the text in the original language, and the text in English
(translation) when the original was not English.
For each study session,
choose a speaker/country and complete the following steps for that
speaker/country before moving on to the next speaker/country.
yourself interpreting a speech from the webcast without using the written text
and without specific topic preparation. This will simulate exam conditions.
Avoid stopping/starting over, since you can’t do this during the examination
2. Listen to your recorded interpretation while following in the original
language text of the speech (when available). This will allow you to check for
omissions, additions, and accuracy. This will also allow you to develop reflexes
for key UN concepts, organs, vocabulary, titles, etc. You will be able to see
where you struggled, figure out why you struggled, and develop an appropriate
strategy or remedy.
3. Listen to your recorded interpretation while
reading the text translated into your target language (when available) for
comparison between your interpretation and the United Nations interpreter’s
version. This will allow you to establish whether your language choices match
preferred United Nations language choices.
4. As you perform tasks 2 and
3, underline salient text (key UN concepts, organs, vocabulary, titles, things
you got wrong, things you got right, things that you know will come frequently,
5. Cross-check underlined salient text in all of your languages,
either in the translated texts (when available), in UNTERM
or in other sources, and then feed this vocabulary into your working glossary
(preferably indexed with indexing software such as DT Search for quick queries).
Study that glossary in your downtime. Highlight language that repeats in your
study sessions. As the glossary gets long, create an additional glossary of just
the highlighted high-frequency language.
6. Listen to the UN
interpreter’s version (when available). This gives you an idea of the delivery
sought from UN staff interpreters.
7. Reinterpret the speech until you
get it perfect. (And then do it again a few weeks later).
8. It is
important to do all of these steps for a given speech before moving on to new
material. On days when you do not have a lot of time, choose a short speech.
(The speech length is shown on the screen). Completing all of these tasks for a
5 minute speech can take a full half hour, and sometimes that might be all the
time you have. It could be better to have regular, short, complete sessions
instead of irregular, longer, haphazard ones. A methodical, step-by-step
approach will keep things from falling through the cracks.
Note: If you
are looking for more or different material than what is found in the archived
webcasts section, look for “See the latest” at the center left of the webcast
main screen. Just below that there is a horizontal scroll bar with links to
sundry UN meetings, conferences, and events. Some successful candidates found
the links to the UN Human Rights Council and the 2005 World Summit particularly
Part 2: Additional tasks
1. Listen to
UN Radio and UN RSS feeds and podcasts in your languages.
It is worth
getting familiar with the content of this site. Much of the content can be
downloaded into your ipod/iphone/itouch/MP3 player of choice. The downloadable
content has an old, anachronistic floppy disc icon.
The calendar at the
top left of the screen allows you to see United Nations Radio content for any
day/month in the recent past. You can download to your ipod a full month of UN
Radio programmes in your three languages. Listen to the material wherever you
may be, on public transportation, at the doctor’s office, walking to work,
riding your bike, etc. Some of the radio programmes are news shorts, while
others are feature pieces. Both are helpful, but the news shorts are generally
found to be more efficient for assimilating UN-specific content. It is important
to note key UN concepts, vocabulary and titles and to research them in order to
ensure that the content of your United Nations Radio listening gets turned into
Along the left-hand side of the screen, near the
bottom, there is a link for subscribing to Podcasts and RSS feeds.
Organizational structure in all of your languages
3. Read the UN Charter in all
of your languages. You should be thoroughly familiar with the wording of the
Preamble and other key articles.
4. There is
sample test material from the UN at:
is sample examination material, you may not be ready for this material until the
end of your preparation. That said, listening to it when beginning preparation
can offer an idea of the type of material used for the examination.
Part 3: How to create your own study library matching audio/video files with
corresponding official meeting records
The United Nations
website offers rich resources for preparing for its competitive language
examinations in all official languages. It is very useful for universities
participating in the United Nations MoU network and to individual students to
use such resources to create their own study libraries, in which different
United Nations speeches can be categorized by topic, level of linguistic
complexity and in which audio/video files can be matched by their official
transcriptions prepared by the United Nations Verbatim Reporters. Saving the
library on your computer hard drive would also allow you to study without
interruptions when you do not have an Internet connection and ensures that even
if the United Nations database managers remove your study materials from the web
site, for whatever reason, you will still have them.
Follow the simple
steps described below:
1. Create several directories in your My
Documents folder and name them using the categories featured on the UN website:
peace and security; development; human rights; humanitarian affairs;
2. Within each directory, create three subfolders:
difficult; medium; easy.
3. You will gradually fill the subfolders with
matching audio and text files as you work with them to hone your interpretation
skills. Below is an example showing how to extract matching files.
1: FIND A DOCUMENT:
• Go to
• Choose General Assembly or
Security Council. For the sake of this example, the GA directory has been
• Select Documents tab
• Select topic (here – international
peace and security
• Select agenda item
(here - The role of diamonds in fuelling conflict). You will see the following
Out of the documents available (here – 33 documents), select one containing “PV”
in its symbol (in this example – No.5). Save documents in all languages you work
with. Note the meeting date and number.
STEP 2. Find matching
• Open new Internet browser
• Go to same GA page,
select "Newsroom", "Webcast".
• Select year (here – 2009), find your
• Point mouse at Archived Video file, right-click and select
"Save Target As".
Now you have a matching audio file of the speeches
which you can practice interpreting. Check your interpretation against the
official transcript; note mistakes and new vocabulary, as recommended above in
If you add files to your collection regularly, soon you will
have on your hard drive an impressive library of speeches for unlimited