How can I work as an interpreter for the UN?

Since 1945 the members of the Untied Nations have met with the  objective of maintaining world peace during turbulent times. With a total of 193 member states, and as many languages,  interpreters are relied upon to relay the correct information to ensure that language barriers do not interfere with UN objectives.

If you are studying towards a career in the language services industry and want to become a translator or interpreter for the UN, you need to pass Language Competitive Examinations (LCE), which take place every two or three years.

The UN website gathers all the information you need to apply for these examinations. Here is an overview:

Requirements to work as a translator for the UN:

  • perfect command of one of the official languages: Arabic, Chinese, Russian, English, Spanish and French.
  • excellent knowledge of at least two other official languages. For Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish one of them must be English. English speakers must know French. For Chinese speakers it is not compulsory to know a second language, but they must have excellent knowledge of English.
  • You have a Translation degree or have considerable experience working as a translator.

Requirements to work as an interpreter for the UN:

  • perfect command of one of the official languages.
  • English, French, Russian and Spanish interpreters must possess excellent knowledge of two other official languages. Arabic or Chinese interpreters must also possess excellent command of English or French, as required.
  • You meet the educational requirements for application.

If you meet all the requirements to attend LCE, the first thing you need to do is to create a profile with all your details to apply for an examination and submit the application. If it is accepted, you will have to pass a written examination if your aim is to become a translator, which is made up of several stages:

  • Translation of a general text written in your main foreign language (qualifying).
  • Multiple choice exercise where you have to select the best translation for several sentences (qualifying).
  • Translation of a text written in your second foreign language.
  • Specialised translation of a text written in your main foreign language.
READ  Language Role Model of the Week: Gael García Bernal

Interpreters are required to carry out simultaneous interpreting. Preparation is key.

  • You should take into account that no reference materials are allowed during the examinations.
  • Then, you will have to face an interview in English or in French if you performed well in the first part. Successful candidates will be placed on the roster of the corresponding language, and when vacancies become available, candidates will be recruited from it.

If you are a freelance translator or interpreter and have at least 5 years industry specific experience, we’d love to hear from you. Please send your CV and two reference to