Working as a UN translator could be a very exciting proposition. Potential candidates for a translator’s job would work in an international setting, with job opportunities across the world. It could be New York, Geneva or a mission in Africa or elsewhere in the World. Also, according to the UN’s pay scales, the job of the professional translator in the Organisation is well-paid.
But translators that work or have worked for the organization can tell you that it is a demanding job. It often goes beyond the regular working hours or weekends. Also, it often demands expertise in more than one language as well as some other fields. It could be politics, economy, law, or expertise in a field of natural science.
For example, according to the UN’s Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM), “United Nations translators are required to have a perfect command of their first language and an excellent knowledge of at least two other official languages.”
The description of the application and testing on UN’s recruitment site lists quite a number of steps and detailed screening process. At the same time, the UN Secretariat recruits a variety of language staff. This includes translators, interpreters, editors, verbatim reporters, copy preparers/proofreaders/production editors, terminologists and reference assistants.
Along with six official UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), the Organization employs translators for practically all live languages of the World. This could be on a permanent or temporary contract, depending on the need.
Working as a translator can be an enticing proposition for any language specialist. On the other hand, the job of a UN translator is at the same time complex, time-consuming. It requires knowledge of more the just one of the six official UN languages.
Recruitment of a UN translator is complex and detailedDGACM recruitment site (above) explains in detail all the requirements and tests potential UN translators have to pass through.
As of 2017, to pass recruitment qualifications, translators and other language specialists that deal with written documents have to do a single language competitive examination (LCE). As explained, candidates must take the competitive examination in their main language.
The organization requires translators to have at least a first-level degree from a university or institution of equivalent status. At the same time potential translator has to be able to translate into his main language from at least two of the other official languages. For example, if a potential translator’s main language is English, he would have to be able to translate both into French and Spanish.
The potential candidates take the first two parts of LCE remotely. For candidates whose main language is English, the first part of the examination will usually consist of:
If they pass, in the second phase the potential candidates will have to translate without using dictionaries, glossaries or any other resources. The final step is a competency-based interview.
Compared to daily workload, the competency test might seem easyUN translators handle probably the widest variety of texts. It could be a statement from one of the Member States or say an expert report for one of the Organization’s specialized bodies like the Food and Agriculture Organization, located in Rome, Italy.
The documents UN translators work on can practically cover any topic. That topic can be human rights and peace and security to development and environmental protection.
As DGACM (above) explains, “to ensure the consistency and accuracy of their products, translators work in a 100% electronic environment.” They use a specialized “eLUNa computer-assisted translation tool to instantly compare new texts with all United Nations documents.” This tool has an integrated machine translation component, TAPTA4UN. Tools also include online dictionaries, glossaries, and other in-house databases.
When it is necessary, and that is an almost daily occurrence, UN translators have to perform additional research. They also need to consult with “fellow translators/précis-writers and relevant experts.”
UN translators also have another key responsibility. They have to standardize language terms in the six official languages. “New or outdated terms are systematically gathered, researched and verified against authoritative sources. This is done 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.”
UN translators at a more senior level have yet another task. They have a ‘revisers’ title and job and have to review all translations. Along with linguistic experience, these revisers have to be also familiar with “the body in question and the subject covered.”
Who are précis-writers?The proceedings of United Nations bodies can produce quite a voluminous series of documents. This is particularly the case in main UN centers like New York or Geneva, Switzerland. There, translation services in English and French language draft summaries of these proceedings. This process is known as précis-writing.
“Summary records, originally drafted in English or French, are then translated into the other five official languages.” DGACM explains that “précis-writers do not take a separate Language Competitive Examination but, once recruited, they receive specific training in précis-writing.”
The task description for précis-writers says that they summarize all statements in their main language. This is “regardless of the language in which the statement was delivered in the meeting room.”
The main task of the précis-writers is to “ 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.”
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.
UN translators and their workloadAlong with translators for the six official UN languages, this organization employs quite a number of translators for other languages. German and Japanese are among the more prominent ones.
Also, UN institutions or missions located around the world often require translators in one or more local languages. This is also the case with some specialized UN institutions as was the UN’s International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia (The Hague, Netherlands), where the bulk of translators worked in all languages spoken in the former Balkan country.
Whether it is an official or another language, all UN translators have to have “a perfect command of their first language and an excellent knowledge of at least two other official languages. They must also be able to write in a clean, clear and perfectly grammatical style in their first language.” (DGACM)
Many readers of United Nations documents, in particular, the representatives of the 193 Member States, work in a language other than their own. That is why the goal of DGACM is “ the goal of the Services is to produce documents that are readily comprehensible to all” who will read them.
Still, the UN and its bodies can permanently employ so many translators. UN translators often have to work long hours and weekends. For example, UN General Assembly committee sessions can last into the wee hours of the night. That would mean that translators would have to complete their job in the early morning hours. The documents have to be fully ready by the opening hours on the next working day.
That is why 25% of the translation work ends up with “over 220 outside individual translators, 6 translation companies and more than 60 text-processors on a contractual basis “ And that number only concerns the UN’s Secretariat in NYC. Still, that means that overall, most of the heavy translation load in any of the UN’s organizations is handled by the professional UN translators.
It would be almost impossible these days to open many information or ‘information’ sites and not see a list or listicle, as they became known. Whole sites are devoted to those, and it seems that the ones that deal with various curious ideas, phenomena, or even bizarre events are the ones that are predominant.
For writers, whether they like it or not, these sites seem to be the ones that offer most writing opportunities and the ones that actually pay, and pay well. In many ways, listicle writing has become a prerogative for any writer that wants to do writing online.
For some reason though, a lot of writers shy away from listicle writing, being of an opinion that it is ‘second-grade’ writing that turns their words into a daily agenda or a shopping list, killing narrative or a plot in their writing.
Well, actually, with the constant use of these ‘electronic typewriters’, busy schedules and social media, snap questions that demand even snappier answers, the ground for the listicle era has been set, and writers certainly have their part in the whole thing. The only question remains is — do you want to keep rejecting listicles or do you want to adapt your writing to the situation.
In essence, the key benefit for writers in writing listicles is not just the writing itself but the fact that one of the key writing tools, research, really has to be sharpened up and developed, because if you really want to write good listicles, your research skills have to be at its best.
On the basis of good, solid research, there can always emerge a pattern, a narrative a plot that can be developed later on, or actually through the listicle itself. It all depends on your skill, imagination and the information you have at hand.
So, as Gordon Lightfoot wrote and sang some 45 years ago in “The List”:
“There’s a little song on my list for tonight
Would ya like to try and make it rhyme…”
During “The Flight of the Conchords”, the short-lived, brilliant comedy series there was an episode where a girl falls in love with one of the main characters because she says that he looks like Art Garfunkel, who was supposedly her former boyfriend. Of course, he doesn’t. He gets into the act, even tries to adapt his looks, but by the time he does that, the real Art Garfunkel actually shows up at the door, and the whole thing falls apart.
Playing a substitute is always a balancing act, the benefits are there, but can possibly bring only a brief gratification. With all the negative elements surfacing at some point or other, like in one of the best The Who songs of the same name:
“ But I’m a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.” (The Who: “Substitute”)
When writing and substitute, substitutes and substitution are brought in the same context as writing, the first thing that comes to mind is the ghost part of it — sitting down and writing somebody else’s story, ideas in your own words — turning yourself into a ghostwriter. Yet, that could not be the whole story. What if you use somebody else’s ideas, character traits, plots and turn them into your own, and not just your own words?
Of course, similar ideas, characters or plot sequences happen all the time, quite a few concepts in pop culture, particularly music and performing arts are based on the same premises, but with different end outcome.
On one hand, if that outcome is actually different, or actual elements used previously are strapped together to give them an altogether different outcome as a whole, there might be benefits for a writer to take a writing road that has already been taken.
But on the other, the pitfalls are dangerous and if that ’substitution’ turns into outright plagiarism the final effects can be more than damaging to a writing career.
So substitution can be a writing tool in the broad interpretation of the term but can be a very dangerous tool if not used lightly and correctly.
Since there was something to write with, and at the time something to play with, some kind of a sport, usually involving a ball of some sorts, up until these times, there is an ongoing thought that these things are not really compatible.
Even most of the kids in school who preferred a pen, or these days an iPad, are the ones remaining in the classroom or in some corner of the yard scribbling or typing something, while most of the others are chasing a ball or playing any kind of a game that falls under the title of a sport.
Somehow, that keeps the prospective, or full-fledged writers way from anything connected with a word sport, depriving themselves of a vast field of writing possibilities that necessarily do not have to be connected with any sport itself, whether it is its rules, mechanics or logic.
As any good song about the sports, like New Order’s “World In Motion”, shows, sports can be a source of writing inspiration, using it as a springboard to something that goes more to the elements of what humanity is.
Too much? Not really. What about the social aspects of sports, their meaning to human interaction, the need for spectators to participate in the game in some form or other, the social and political use and misuse of sports, health benefits, injuries, physical and mental, the impact of winning or losing… and it goes on.
As with any other human activity, sports can be an infinite source of writing inspiration. Ok, many would say, but still, you have to be knowledgeable about any or all sports to write credibly about them, even if they are only a base for other deliberations.
Sure, but then how do you write about anything, politics, economy, philosophy if you don’t research or do some form of study or other? Maybe it is just a form of aversion towards something you thought you were not good at or towards those days when other kids mocked you when you terribly missed hitting that ball for a score or did you just forget that you still wanted to play anyway?
Searching for a universal writing application is probably akin to searching for a universal writing style. So right off, the answer to the question in the title is negative. But then, is there one out there that would have a broad appeal and, as in that Rolling Stones classic, bring “Satisfaction” to as many writers as is possible.
Yet another tough one. The answer would have to involve not only personal tastes and preferences, but also elements like the computer platform, stationary or laptop, iPad/tablet, mobile phone… And, again, the answer would probably be negative again. Maybe at some point, but whatever platform you take into consideration, the answer wouldn’t differ much.
Let’s consider the Mac situation. Like on every other platform, Microsoft Word probably dominates, and almost any editor anywhere on the planet will at least gladly accept it. But then, with everything it is got built in, most of which 95 percent of the writers don’t need, unless you are a chain smoker, need to boil a fresh pot of coffee, or go get your snail mail, it will take ages to open. Or, try finding and using one of those fancy features without reading through a few pages of an even more confusing instruction manual. Let alone the fact that it uses so much memory that if you open a few references while you are writing, your typing speed loses any connection with that term whatsoever.
Nisus Writer Pro is very popular with Mac users, it opens in a breeze and typing is never slow, unless, as in Word you open other apps or references, when it can simply crash everything, as it operates mainly using your RAM memory. Apple’s Pages, like anything Apple is stylish, has a pile of templates and relatively quick in operation, but try submitting a text in it to an online publication that doesn’t operate on Apple, whether you convert the file(s) or not.
Scrivener is excellent, saves all your projects in the order you wish and need, keeps chapters separate, but as with Pages, try submitting it to somebody who doesn’t support it. And, as the number or the size of your project start to grow, like Word, it can take ages to open. Writing Shed, new app based on the same principles as Scrivener, tries to resolve the speed problems, but has other styling shortcomings, like changing to say bold lettering and back, as it will mess up your spacing, if you changed that too. Of course, you may try newcomers like Writer and Strike, but they all need work to do to be barely competitive.
You can always go for something compatible with other devices you write on and don’t use as much space or memory as a full-fledged word processor like Bear or Ulysses, which can be great in some situations, but have their shortcomings like how internet links act within your text or having to check up your word count in a separate menu, to cite just two.
Of course, you can always open up Google Docs, editors love it, but if they have more than one remark in a paragraph, finding what each one relates to in the text can get confusing. And then, if you want to save your text anywhere else then just trust it to Google, you have to write it up somewhere else first, or copy and paste it into another application.
In the end, it seems that every writer has a special section on their device just for their writing apps and every morning before they start writing they have the same feeling they had a while before that when they were choosing what they are going to wear that day. No real satisfaction…yet.
It is more a case that writers, like Captain Beefheart and many other musicians, complained that they have “Too Much Time”. They either complain that they have a writer’s block, that they lack inspiration or that they can’t get anybody interested in their pitches or getting to write copy or turn themselves into ‘the dreaded’ ghostwriters.
But what about a situation when they have all the opportunities in the world, the inspiration is there and the writer’s block is busted
to pieces? What happens when they find themselves in a situation they have an abundance of work, inspiration, ideas, possibilities? It is a situation they have craved for and “Too Much Time”, the Beefheart song or any other of the numerous ones with that name can be buried
deep into their record collection?
Well, then it is just a question of
balancing your time. No excuses there, you cannot resort to that easy way out called ‘I’m not an expert in that subject’, or ‘
there’s too much research to be done
Ok, so there are things you know less about, and yes, there are situations when as a writer you have to learn something about rocket science. And, of course,
even if you are writing your memoir you have to do extensive research unless you have a more extensive memory than the hard disc on the computer you’re working on (or iPad/tablet, makes no difference).
But then, there is one thing you are (
or are supposed
to be) an expert in — and that is an expert with words, which also includes understanding numbers.
So when the list of excuses runs out, there is one thing to do — keep on writing, tackling those tasks one by one, and with enjoyment. Then “Too Much Time” will be a song that gets yet another meaning for you.
Merriam-Webster says inanimate stands for “a thing that is not alive, such as a rock, a chair, a book, etc
.”. Dictionary.com goes further with its definition in linguistics: “belonging to a syntactic category or having a semantic feature characteristic of words denoting objects, concepts, and beings regarded as lacking perception and volition”
Sure, but with writers, things rarely stick strictly do dictionary or general definitions. And they shouldn’t. Not always, anyway. Writers often use inanimate objects, concepts and beings as a starting point to transpose them and give them a ‘live’ human meaning, defining us, them, anybody, or some form of human relations.
There is always a human element, anyway when we write about inanimate objects. When he came up with “Famous Blue Raincoat”, one of his best and most celebrated songs/poems, Leonard Cohen through that coat gave all he felt about a failed relationship, treachery, love, and at least a dozen sense of other human feelings:
“Oh, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn
at the shoulder
You’d been to the station to meet every train
But then you came home without Lili Marlene…”
Nothing inanimate there. The raincoat has taken all the shapes and forms of a person wearing it and how Cohen perceived that person and their relations and relations with others involved.
That is why a writer can (and often should) see all things inanimate as something that can give them inspiration for their writing. Past, present, future, it can all be ‘seen
’ and viewed from that object, whether it is just a starting point or something that permeates the writing throughout. Basically, a writer could give life to things that are seemingly not alive.
Comes a time… so goes a song from the album of the same name Neil Young came up with a few decades ago. Still a great song, but its context for quite a number of writers could be that the harsh writing times demand some serious compromises, and that could be joining one of the ever-growing numbers of writer farms.
Actually, they used to call them content farms and more often these days content mills. Allena Tapia wrote on www.thebalancesmb.com, that “A content mill or writers mill is a slang term used by freelance writers and given to a company, website, or organization designed to provide cheap website content, usually at a significant profit to themselves, and usually by paying very low rates to writers.”
The farm connotation was changed I guess, since it reminded of peaceful cows grazing some (relatively cheap) grass as a reward for their writing, while the mill connotation has probably more to do with those heavy stones that grind the flower, or every ounce of writing strength. The rewards are still the same as on the farm.
So, if you can swallow Allena’s definition, you’re in need, you may want to dip your writing (hands and feet) into content mill waters. It may sound like a simple proposition — you check out the organizations and find the ones that pay better, you apply, sign in, start writing, get paid for your writing. Well, not so fast.
Most of this writing is business -oriented, and in this day and age, it means it has to abide by the rules of being as visible as possible online, which means you have to be quite a bit informing with ever-present or search engine optimization, better known as SEO. Often you have to pass a test, sometimes more than one, and most often that science fiction trilogy you got rave reviews a few years back won’t do you much good here.
If you do get through, you have to get acquainted with usually a strict set of rules that look like a cross-country hurdle race, since everything has to be more or less uniform. But then, wasn’t the hurdles and uniformity the reason you got into writing in the first place?
Of course, that’s not all. When you get done with your article(s) you get to encounter the editors — the mill’s or the customer’s, it could depend, but possible surprises will at least keep you on your toes if by chance you encounter an editor that is not exactly keen on what you have done.
Oh, and you get graded. Usually, you start somewhere in the middle and often go down before you start getting up. As you might suspect, going down on the list, means getting paid less for your work. If you get it, that is…
At some point, you get financially rewarded (more or less, depends), you get a byline or (more often) you don’t, but then Neil Young is always there to remind you that … comes a time…
It is that time of the year. Since we start off with elementary schooling, sometime before winter holidays, they teach us to start making resolutions for a new year, always to make ourselves better, think positive, correct our mistakes…
This process sticks with us, and as the years go by, the number of things that need to get better, the ays we have to improve ourselves and the mistakes we have to correct somehow seem to grow in number. Hopefully, we don’t end up like the main character in that Tom Waits’ classic, “Xmas Card From A hooker In Minneapolis”:
“Hey Charlie, for chrissakes, if you want to know the truth of it
[I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone
I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer, and Charlie, hey
[I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s day…”
Maybe that is a reason why almost everybody this time of the year keeps on coming up with these resolutions, for themselves, and it has become a fad to do those for others, including writers. I guess the hope is eternal. And it should be.
But at some point you get fed up with those, but you can also ask yourself, do you, as a writer need these, or do you, like in that “New Yorker” cartoon that ended up on holiday cards recently that depicted three trash cans, one for old bottles, second for old newspapers and the third for new year’s resolutions have to do the same?
No good answers there. If your writing is content oriented, if you are one of those ghostwriters, where you need to make a balance between being a writer and being a ghost, I guess tight planning is of the essence and there are certain goals you need to achieve, and it all depends on your writing.
But what about if you need to, or essentially rely on your impulses, the fancy of your imagination, the ideas you are not even aware will come up to your mind. Maybe it has something to do with the way Death Cab For Cutie put it in their “New Year”:
“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
It’s self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions.”
One thing is for sure, it’s a situation where ‘rule of the thumb’ rules. Just don’t let anybody make any resolutions for you. Particularly when your writing is in question.
So you pitched your latest masterpiece of a novel to countless editors, even those you never heard of, and there’s no money available to publish it on your own. Actually, there’s practically no money available whatsoever.
The family’s got to eat, and writing is the only thing you can do…
You scramble around, through the familiar ground, nobody needs or wants a daily life story, cosy crime fiction or your detailed commentary on the current political situation. All you got is an offer to write poetry with a science fiction theme, a copy for new toiletry products or even ‘worse’, the possibility to hang all day on Quora and answer specific questions.
In such a situation, quite a few writers would rather resort to good friends or not so friendly banks and wait, wait, wait…
Actually, that is a syndrome, a syndrome of fearing anything that’s new, something that is personal uncharted territory. Back in the Seventies, Blue Oyster Cult, one of the better, intellectually charged heavy metal bands, had quite a hit with their song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”.
So if you shouldn’t fear the reaper, why fear new uncharted writing ground? Incidentally, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, the founders of the band started out as rock critics. The switched their writing to song lyrics, and obviously didn’t look back…
The key lies in the fact whether your writing is ‘readable’ and whether you have confidence in yourself and those words you commit to paper or your word processor. If you are aware of the fact that every writing, including the most outrageous fiction, requires detailed research (whether you have an attack of stream of consciousness and particularly if you don’t), and you have already done it for your work within a familiar writing territory, that you have the initial equipment to try something unfamiliar. Have in mind that if you are able to comprehend the unknown, you are able to transform it into words, you are certainly able to write about something you never wrote about before.
Oh, by the way, those bills that are piling up don’t ask any other questions than to be paid.
To learn more about me, please check my LinkedIn page at www.linkedin.com/profile/preview?locale=en_US&trk=prof-0-sb-preview-primary-button.