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Role of translators

UN documents are issued simultaneously in the six official languages of the Organization (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Some core documents are also translated into German. This multilingual documentation is made possible by United Nations translators, whose job is to render clearly and accurately the content of original texts into their main language.

Types of documents

United Nations translators handle all kinds of documents, from statements by Member States to reports prepared by expert bodies. The documents they translate cover every topic on the United Nations agenda, including human rights, peace and security, and development. New issues arise every day.

Tools for translators

To ensure the consistency and accuracy of their products, translators work in a 100% electronic environment, using the eLUNa computer-assisted translation tool to instantly compare new texts with all United Nations documents, as well as online dictionaries, glossaries and other in-house databases, supplemented by research when needed, or consultations with fellow translators/précis-writers and relevant experts.

Terminology

A key responsibility of translators is the standardization of terms in the six official languages. New or outdated terms are systematically gathered, researched and verified against authoritative sources, in consultation with in-house specialists from substantive departments, language professionals and outside sources, including technical experts and specialized websites. Verified terms are then stored in the multilingual database UNTERM, which is also directly accessible via the eLUNa translation tool.

Translation workflow

To ensure the quality required, nearly all translations produced in-house are reviewed by “revisers” (usually senior translators who are familiar with the body in question and the subject covered).

Role of précis-writers

Another important task that translators in the English and French services carry out at some duty stations is the drafting of summaries of the proceedings of United Nations bodies, a process known as précis-writing. Summary records, originally drafted in English or French, are then translated into the other five official languages.
Précis-writers do not take a separate Language Competitive Examination but, once recruited, they receive specific training in précis-writing.

Tasks

Précis-writers summarize all statements in their main language, regardless of the language in which the statement was delivered in the meeting room. Précis-writers condense all statements in a clear, accurate and concise manner without omitting any of the speakers’ key points or distorting the argument. Summaries are generally one third to one half of the length of the original statement and are written in reported speech.

To do so, précis-writers work in teams. They take turns taking notes at a meeting and then write up their summaries. They work from their notes, written copies of the statements when available, and, when necessary, the audio recording of the meeting.

The summary records they produce constitute the official records of the body.

See sample record here