Interpreting at the United Nations : an empirical study on the Language Competitive Examination (LCE)

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The first event that prompted me to consider carrying out a research study was my participation in 2013 as a jury member in the Language Competitive Examination (LCE) for French Language Interpreters. For that exam in particular, I was part of the team entrusted with selecting materials for the LCE . There were 109 eligible candidates and three weeks were needed to complete the marking process, which took place at the United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ) in New York. All New York senior interpreters and myself listened and marked every recording. Only 9 candidates (8.25%) were successful and passed the exam. That was when I began to reflect on the situation and to wonder what the reasons for such a high failure rate might be. As an active participant in the Outreach Programme that was launched by United Nations (UN) to address the shortage of qualified interpreters and as a firm believer in the importance of helping and mentoring the next generation of interpreters, I was puzzled by those results and this triggered my incipient interest in commencing a line of research after realizing that most of the applicants selected for this particular LCE had attended an interpretation training programme and yet did not have the capacity nor the level required to pass the LCE and, thus, enter employment at the UN. It is worth mentioning that the LCE is not merely an exam. It is a chain with a series of connected links: the UN, the Outreach Program, the candidates and the UN interpreting community. The connections between all the links seen through the lenses of the LCE constitute the cornerstone of my research. After the marking of the 2013 French LCE, I came to the conclusion that, in order to pass the LCE, candidates needed to master specific aspects that prior training in interpreting might not sufficiently cover, such as a good command of the simultaneous interpreting (SI) technique, strategies for coping with speed, and an in-depth knowledge of the structure and content of UN speeches in general and LCE speeches in particular. In addition, candidates needed to be aware of the criteria that examiners were going to consider when assessing their renditions. So I posed the following general research question for my study: why a relatively high number of candidates who have been previously selected and who have received specific training in interpreting face difficulties when confronted with the LCE? As a matter of fact, this issue has been previously dealt with. In 2007, the UN launched an Outreach Programme and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Conference Interpretation Teaching institutions to address the shortage of qualified interpreters. Two years later, in 2009, an expert panel on the revamping of the language examination format and methods was convened. My own line of research, which can be considered as an extension of studies conducted thus far, seeks to propose potential avenues for future action. The general objective of my study is to analyse the specificities related to interpreting at the UN and the LCE, and to examine the training received at schools that have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United Nations (MoU schools) with the ultimate goal ofproviding a series of recommendations and guidelines targeted at MoU schools (and that could be extended to all training institutions). Those recommendations could be used to foster better cooperation between all stakeholders and could benefit the whole process. For that purpose, and in order to gain a better understanding of the training received by interpreters at MoU schools and the usefulness of that training for passing the LCE, I carried out an empirical study that included two questionnaires targeted at staff interpreters, on the one hand, and senior interpreters who had served as LCE jury members, on the other hand. The first questionnaire, targeting the entire UN interpreters¿ community, helped me analyse the perspective of UN interpreters. Their perception of the training they had received or their self-training to pass the LCE helped me gain a better understanding of the impact of training on LCE results. With the second questionnaire, targeted at senior interpreters, I was able to gain a better understanding of their views on the competencies required to pass the LCE and what could be done to improve the statistics. My research must be seen as a modest contribution to a much wider exercise: how to bridge the gap between the high number of candidates per examination and the relativelylow success rate. Although some internal documents have been published on the matter, to my knowledge, no specific report on interpretation and the LCE has been presented. My dissertation must be viewed in this context, as a tool that could complete the work done thus far and help the whole process move forward.
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Programa de Doctorado en Historia y Estudios Humanísticos: Europa y América, Arte y Lenguas
Línea de Investigación: Traducción e Interpretación
Clave Programa: DHH
Código Línea: 78
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