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HINTS is a worldwide network of Heads of INTerpreting Services. Members advise and help each other concerning urgent questions and keep in touch electronically. They also meet twice a year on an informal basis to discuss interpreting-related issues and examine cooperation possibilities in this field.




International meetings and conferences are attended by people from different backgrounds and cultures who often speak different languages. It is always preferable to have the right people present rather than those who just happen to be good at foreign languages. Conference interpreters help them to communicate with each other, not by translating every word they utter, but by conveying the ideas which they express. They maintain complete confidentiality concerning what they hear and see. Interpreters are at the front line of multilingualism, working to ensure that language is no barrier to understanding. The interpreting services of the European Union, United Nations and other institutions are the world’s largest employers of conference interpreters. Whereas translators deal with the written word, interpreters make sense of the spoken word. They understand what is being said in one language and render that same message accurately and almost instantly in another. By enabling communication and facilitating dialogue, interpreters act as a bridge between cultures and often find themselves at the very heart of the decision-making process.

There are two main techniques in interpreting. The first is consecutive, where the interpreter uses a special form of note-taking while the speaker is speaking and then gives back the speech in another language as soon as the speaker has finished. The second, which accounts for over 90% of all conference interpreting, is simultaneous interpreting, where the interpreter will listen to the speaker and interpret at the same time whilst keeping pace with the speaker. This form of interpreting requires meeting rooms specially equipped with soundproof booths for the interpreters and electronic equipment for sound amplification, transmission and - often - recording. The language arrangements for international meetings vary considerably from consecutive interpretation between two languages, for which only one interpreter may be required, to simultaneous interpretation at EU-meetings into and out of 22 or more languages, which requires at least 66 interpreters.

How can you become an interpreter? Many people believe that to be an interpreter you need to be fluent in half a dozen languages. This is a myth: the majority of conference interpreters interpret only into their mother tongue! A postgraduate-level programme is considered to be the most appropriate way to train high-quality conference interpreters. One benchmark is the European Masters in Conference Interpreting. See EMCI:

Career opportunities with the interpreting services Different international organizations have different hiring practices, with more or fewer staff positions. Some have staff who only interpret; others have staff who also translate. All of them hire freelance interpreters. If you are interested in working for a particular organization, you should contact them individually.


Chaîne de télévision culturelle européenne, ARTE diffuse le même programme dans toute l’Europe en français et en allemand, ses deux langues officielles. Créée il y a bientôt 20 ans à l’initiative de la France et de l’Allemagne, elle compte aujourd’hui une dizaine de chaînes partenaires dans toute l’Europe. Son siège et son antenne sont à Strasbourg, où travaillent quotidiennement plus de 400 salariés. Les programmes diffusés sont originaires pour un tiers de France, un tiers d’Allemagne et un tiers d’Europe et du monde. Investie d’une mission transfrontalière, ARTE s’est dotée d’un service linguistique (fait rarissime dans l’audiovisuel !) qui emploie une dizaine de permanents appelés à des tâches de traduction et d’interprétation.

More information can be found at:

Outre ses missions de traduction de tous types de documents institutionnels, mais aussi de textes destinés au site internet ou à la presse, le Service linguistique a pour charge d’organiser et de mettre en œuvre l’interprétation des réunions et conférences ainsi que des émissions de télévision. Pour réaliser la seconde version linguistique des émissions d’information et des débats télévisés, mais aussi des vidéos diffusées sur le Web, Arte fait appel à des interprètes indépendants formés aux spécificités de ce type de travail (plus de 2000 contrats par an).

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is Europe’s Human Rights’ watchdog and is based in Strasbourg. Its two official languages are French and English, but it also has German, Italian, Russian and occasionally Spanish, Greek and Turkish as working languages. The Council of Europe has a limited number of staff interpreters and is a big recruiter of bi-active English-French freelancers (7000 interpreter-days per year) as well as bi-active interpreters in all its member States (the language of the country concerned and English or French). It also recruits multi-lingual interpreters for its many Parliamentary Committee meetings in Paris or elsewhere.

More information can be found at:

Interpretation at the Council of Europe is varied as it involves working for intergovernmental meetings, monitoring bodies, parliamentary committees and the European Court of Human Rights.

The Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court in Luxembourg constitutes the judicial authority of the European Union and, in cooperation with the courts and tribunals of the Member States, it ensures the uniform application and interpretation of European Union law. In order to guarantee equal access to justice at EUlevel, it is essential to enable the parties to express themselves in their own language. Simultaneous interpretation is provided during the public hearings before the Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal. The number of languages used varies from one hearing to another, depending on the needs of the parties, the judges and the official languages of the Member States involved.

More information can be found at:

The interpreters must understand not only the languages but also the detail of the subject-matter, so careful study of the case-file is an integral part of their work. The Court of Justice of the EU has 70 staff interpreters and employs on average 350 freelance interpreters each year for 65 interpreter days per working week.


EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, is a civil-military intergovernmental organisation with 38 Member States across the European continent as well as the European Community. Its primary objective is the development of a seamless panEuropean air traffic management (ATM) system. The Agency, EUROCONTROL’s executive body, is organised in several business units in seven European cities and its Headquarters is based in Brussels. Up to 12 languages are used in EUROCONTROL’s governing bodies and in some of the main consultative groups.

More information can be found at:

These are: English, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish and Italian. The official languages of the EUROCONTROL Organisation are all the languages of its Member States while the working languages of the Agency are English and French. EUROCONTROL has six staff interpreters and recruits up to 500 freelance interpreter/days per year. All together they provide 660 interpreter/days per year for its bilingual and multilingual meetings.

The European Commission


The Directorate General for Interpretation (DG Interpretation) is part of the European Commission, the executive organ of the European Union headquartered in Brussels. DG Interpretation provides quality interpretation in meetings organised by the Commission and the other Institutions it serves, and is also a conference organiser for Commission services. The Council of the Union, The Committee of the Regions, The European Economic and Social Committee, The European Investment Bank, and the agencies and offices in the Member States all get their interpreters from DG Interpretation.

The European Commission aims to serve the actual need for interpreters and provides interpreters worldwide. Long-standing training schemes with Universities and Authorities of Member States and Non-member States (e.g. Turkey, USA, Russia, China, Vietnam‌) contribute to a steady supply of interpreters around the globe. DG Interpretation has 550 staff interpreters and provides some 150,000 interpreter days per year, of which about half are freelance days.

More information can be found at:

The European Parliament


DG Interpretation and Conferences supplies interpreters for all the European Parliament’s meetings, as well as for other services outside the EP including the Court of Auditors, the Committee of the Regions, the European Ombudsman, the European Data Protection Officer, the European Commission in Luxembourg and the Translation Centre. An increasing number of the Parliament’s meetings are broadcast live on the internet. As well as travelling to Strasbourg every month for the plenary sessions, the EP’s interpreters travel all over the world, accompanying delegations to overseas conferences, on visits to other parliaments and on election observation missions.

Meetings using all 23 official languages are held on a regular basis and other languages such as Russian, Arabic and Chinese are also often needed. DG INTE has close links to universities training interpreters. DG Interpretation and Conferences has 380 staff interpreters and provides some 110,000 interpreter days per year, of which about half are freelance days.

More information can be found at:

The European Patent Organisation

The European Patent Office (EPO) is the executive arm of the European Patent Organisation, an intergovernmental organisation with currently 36 member states working to support innovation, competitiveness and economic growth in Europe. The EPO’s task is to grant European patents for inventions on the basis of a centralised procedure. With a single patent application, patent protection can be obtained in up to 38 states.

The official languages of the EPO are English, French and German. Whilst there are about 30 staff translators, the EPO relies exclusively on freelance interpreters to provide simultaneous interpretation for oral proceedings and meetings. The EPO has no staff interpreters and recruits up to 60 freelance interpreters per week (up to 100 interpreter days per week). All together, they provide some 4000 interpreter days per year.

Today the EPO is the second largest European organisation, with 6 700 employees from some 30 nations. The EPO has its headquarters in Munich, a branch in The Hague (most meetings are in those two cities), and offices in Berlin and Vienna.

Apart from interpretation in the three official languages, there is a limited but regular demand for Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

More information can be found at:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

The FAO in Rome leads international efforts to defeat hunger. We help developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since our founding in 1945, we have focused special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world’s poor and hungry people. The languages of the Organization are those of the UN, that is Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and, since 2008, Russian. We occasionally use Italian, Portuguese and German. Some eighty per cent of meetings are held at Headquarters, the rest in all continents.

More information can be found at:

FAO has few permanent interpreters and relies on free-lances for over 85% of its needs. The local free-lance pool is relatively small, so many interpreters are recruited from abroad. The most acute scarcity of free-lances has been, since 2008, for English with Russian. Arabic interpreters are also much in demand. On average, we provide 3500 interpreters/days at HQ, and 500 in the Field.

Government of Canada Translation Bureau

The Translation Bureau provides interpretation to all Government of Canada departments and agencies, as well as to Parliament, through two sectors: Parliamentary Interpretation and Conference Interpretation.

counterparts, and high-level missions between Canada and other nations. Their services are available in Canada’s official languages and foreign languages, as well as in Canada’s Aboriginal languages

The Parliamentary Interpretation Service supports the House of Commons, Senate, Cabinet, and all their committees, as well as press conferences and parliamentary associations with interpretation services in both English and French. Interpreters regularly travel across Canada and abroad with Senators and Members of Parliament on parliamentary committees.

In total, the Bureau has approximately 70 staff interpreters and contracts work out to freelance interpreters. Staff interpreters work almost exclusively in Canada’s official languages, although some are also accredited in a third language.

The Conference Interpretation Service supports international and bilateral events, departmental conferences, meetings between federal ministers and their provincial or territorial

More information can be found at:

On average, the Bureau provides Parliament and Canadian government departments with over 18,000 days of interpretation services each year.

The International Criminal Court

The ICC, at The Hague, governed by the Rome Statute, is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC is an independent international organisation, and is not part of the United Nations system. The working languages of the ICC are English and French. The official languages of the Court include the working languages as well as Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. Staff interpreters (20) also translate and/or work on terminology or other projects.

More information can be found at:

The languages currently used in the courtroom are Swahili (Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC) and Lingala (also DRC). The ICC has designed and run paraprofessional interpretation courses in the above languages as well as in Acholi (northern Uganda). One of the new languages to be used in Court in 2010 will be Sango (Central African Republic). The ICC had 2204 interpreter days in 2009, including 1176 freelance interpreter days.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

The ICTY, located in The Hague, The Netherlands, is a United Nations court of law established in 1993 to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. At the time of its establishment, the ICTY was the first war crimes court created by the UN and the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. It is expected to close in 2014 after completing its mandate.

More information can be found at:

English and French are the official languages of the Tribunal. The accused speak Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BCS), Albanian or Macedonian. Simultaneous interpretation in English, French and the language of the accused is provided during all court hearings and sessions. The ICTY has 35 staff interpreters and recruits up to 15 free-lance interpreters per week. All together, they provide some 7,000 interpreter days per year.

The International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) was founded in 1919 and is the United Nations Agency devoted to labour issues. In 1946 it became the first specialized agency associated with the newly formed United Nations Organization. The ILO is the only “tripartite� United Nations agency in that it brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes. The ILO is the global body responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. Working with its 183 member states, the ILO seeks to ensure that labour standards are respected in practice as well as in principle. The main meetings at the ILO are the International Labour Conference in

More information can be found at:

June and the two annual sessions of the Governing Body, in March and in November. The official languages are English, French and Spanish, and Arabic, Chinese, German and Russian are working languages. Interpretation is provided in all these languages for the ILC and the GB sessions. Japanese and passive Portuguese are used at the ILC and passive Portuguese has also been used recently at the GB. There are numerous sectoral and other smaller meetings throughout the year where some or all of these languages are used. The ILO has no permanent staff interpreters, and is dependent on a large pool of freelance interpreters to service its meetings. ( It is the largest recruiter of freelance interpreters in the UN system, using close to 400 interpreters for the ILC).

International Monetary Fund

The IMF is an organization of 186 countries with 2,400 staff members with headquarters in Washington D.C. It was created to foster global monetary cooperation, exchange stability, promote economic growth, high levels of employment and to provide financial and technical assistance to its member countries. Interpretation for ministerial conferences is mainly provided into Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish. The majority of meetings with member countries in Washington and in the field are conducted in the national language and English, hence our interest in colleagues of all booths with a solid retour into English.

More information can be found at:

All interpreters working for the IMF, be it staff or freelancers, are expected to combine interpretation and translation duties. With 15 staff interpreters, the IMF heavily relies on freelance interpreters for assignments in Washington and in over 100 countries. We currently provide about 10,000 interpretation days per year.

The NATO Defense College

The NATO Defense College (NDC) concentrates on the high-level political-military issues that confront both civilian and military leadership at Alliance and at national level, striving to promote debate and to develop consensus-building and other skills needed to succeed in a multinational environment. NDC runs courses for senior officers and civilians, carries out research into security policy and runs a number of outreach programmes. As of December 2010, the four NDC staff linguists will be officially designated as Interpreter-Translators (LI-3/4), interpreting both ways into the NATO official languages, English and French, while performing written translation into their respective mother tongues.

More information can be found at:

Freelance interpreters are mostly recruited for the NATO Regional Cooperation Course, with simultaneous interpretation in Arabic, English and French. Italian, the Host-Nation language, is also regularly used and Russian occasionally. The NDC recruits up to 40 freelance interpreters per week over two ten-week periods, a total of approximately 800 interpreter days per year.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NATO has its diplomatic and administrative headquarters in Brussels with some 1300 staff. It is an international organization founded in 1948 on the principles of collective defence and transatlantic security solidarity. NATO currently numbers 28 Member States and has a number of partnership structures. NATO’s official languages are French and English. Russian, while not having official status, has for some years been regularly used. The organization employs some 55 translators and 40 bi-active staff interpreters. Semiautonomous NATO entities in Mons, Belgium (SHAPE), Rome (NDC) and Luxembourg (NAMSA) employ small numbers of staff interpreter/translators.

More information can be found at:

80% of our 10-12 daily meetings are provided with French-English interpretation, while for ministerial and summit meetings as many as 18 languages may be provided by interpreters recruited either by NATO or by the respective Foreign or Defence ministries.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

The OECD provides a setting where governments of democratic market economies can compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practice and coordinate domestic and international policies.

From its headquarters in Paris it recruits mostly from the Paris FR-EN bi-active market, with some other languages required for occasional meetings, most frequently Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

OECD’s work is based on continued monitoring of events in member countries as well as outside the OECD area, and includes regular projections of short and medium-term economic developments. The OECD Secretariat collects and analyses data on the basis of which the Organisation makes recommendations to the Member governments.

OECD employs 19 staff interpreters on a full-time or part-time basis, and recruits roughly 900 free-lance interpreter days, almost exclusively in Paris, every year.

More information can be found at:

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

With 56 participating States from Europe, Central Asia and North America, the OSCE, with its Secretariat in Vienna, is the largest regional security organization in the world. The Organization deals with three dimensions of security - the politico-military, the economic and environmental, and the human. It therefore addresses a wide range of security-related concerns, based on the concept of comprehensive and indivisible security. Decisions are politically binding and taken by consensus.

More information can be found at:

The working languages of the OSCE and the two associated Treaties (on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and on the Open Skies) are English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Interpretation and translation are provided eight to nine months in a year, by freelancers only. The OSCE Language Services Section is responsible for recruitment (more than 3,000 interpreter contract days per year) and the management of service requests.

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is remitted with prosecuting those responsible for the Beirut bombing of 14 February 2005 which resulted in the death of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons. The Tribunal’s jurisdiction may be extended to events other than that bombing if the judges find that other attacks are connected to the attack of 14 February. Interpretation services are provided by the Language Services Section which is part of the Registry. The Section is based at the seat of the Tribunal in The Hague and has a branch in the Tribunal’s field office in Beirut. The Section employs both staff and freelance interpreters.

More information can be found at:

The official languages of the Tribunal are Arabic, French and English. The working languages of each case will be decided by the judges. Court proceedings will also be interpreted into the language understood by the accused, should he or she not understand the working language(s). The Section provides interpretation services to all organs of the Tribunal in the official and other languages as required. The number of staff and freelance interpreters employed by STL is set to rise substantially from the team of three staff interpreters and 25 freelance interpreters who covered its needs in its first year of operations.

United Nations

The Interpretation Services of the United Nations provide simultaneous interpretation for the six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. UN interpreters cover various topics reflecting the nature of work at each of the four main conference centres. In New York, the political hub of the United Nations, they service meetings of the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and all their subsidiary bodies. In Geneva, interpreters deal more with human rights, disarmament and various technical subjects. In Nairobi, interpreters facilitate multilateral communication for the United Nations Environmental Programme, the UN Habitat and other bodies. In Vienna, where United Nations bodies dealing with drugs, crime, and outer space are based, interpreters cover the meetings of intergovernmental bodies dealing with these subjects, as well as meetings of the International Atomic Energy Agency. More information can be found at:

For more information about each of the four locations please visit Staff interpreters must have passed the UN Competitive Examination for Interpreters. The frequency of the examinations depends upon the needs of the Organization. Freelance interpreters must have passed an ad hoc test. In 2009, the interpreting workload at each of the duty stations was as follows: New York 32, 741 interpreter assignments 5, 298 freelance workdays Geneva 26, 720 interpreter assignments 2, 120 freelance workdays Vienna 3, 721 interpreter assignments 2,290 freelance working days Nairobi 2,414 interpreter assignments 1,053 freelance working days

US Department of State

The Mission of the Office of Language Services of the Department of State is to facilitate communication with non-English speaking governments and people by providing high-level interpreting and translating support to the Executive Office of the President, the Department of State, and other agencies of the United States Federal Government. The Office of Language Services carries on a tradition of language support for the conduct of foreign policy that dates back to 1789, when it was founded by Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State of the United States of America. We have approximately 20 staff diplomatic/conference interpreters representing a dozen languages.

More information can be found at:

Our contract interpreters are tested for consecutive, simultaneous and/or conference work at three different levels of skill in over 40 languages. Staff interpreters must hold US citizenship. Contract interpreters may be foreign nationals, but they must be able to work legally in the United States.

The World Bank Group

The World Bank Group, among the world’s largest development institutions, is a major source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. Its member institutions-the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)-work together and complement each other’s activities to achieve their shared goals of reducing poverty and improving lives. Bank staff represent 165 countries. The work of IBRD and IDA is performed by about 9,000 staff working in Washington, DC, and in almost 120 country offices worldwide. More information can be found at:

The working language of the World Bank Group is English. Other languages, mainly French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic and American Sign Language are offered upon request and on an internal charge back basis. French interpretation is provided twice per week for the meetings of the Board of Directors. Most interpretation services are outsourced to freelance interpreters. Given that most of the meetings held at HQ are held in English, all interpreters are expected to work in the bidirectional mode.

World Health Organization

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for global health matters within the United Nations system. Some 8000 health and other support staff work for WHO on fixed-term appointments, at headquarters (Geneva), in the 6 regional offices and in 145 country offices. WHO has 6 official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Other languages, mainly German and Portuguese are used in regional meetings. Nevertheless, 40% of the meetings that require interpretation use English and one other language only. Hence our interest in colleagues with a solid retour into English. With no staff interpreters, the organization relies fully on freelance interpreters.

More information can be found at:

Besides WHO Governing bodies (the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board) interpretation is also required by many Technical Units and for regular Consultations with member States on wide ranging topics. WHO recruits up to 230 free-lance interpreters per year. All together, they provide some 3000 interpreter days per year.

World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business. The WTO has its headquarters in Geneva, where most of its meetings are held. The WTO works with 3 official languages: English, French and Spanish. With only 6 staff interpreters, the organization relies on recruitment of free-lance interpreters to provide simultaneous interpretation for its meetings.

More information can be found at:

Approximately 500 meetings with interpretation are organized annually, requiring recruitment of up to 3000 free-lance interpreters. WTO should be considered a ‘technical’ organization, and interpreters working at the WTO need to have a good understanding of the issues under discussion and be prepared to assimilate the large number of technical terms commonly used.


HI NT S Produced by:

DG Interpretation,

European Commission March, 2010

hints interpreting for the world  

W RLD INTERPRETING FOR THE HEADS OF INTERPRETING SERVICES HINTS is a worldwide network of Heads of INTerpreting Services. Members advise and...

hints interpreting for the world  

W RLD INTERPRETING FOR THE HEADS OF INTERPRETING SERVICES HINTS is a worldwide network of Heads of INTerpreting Services. Members advise and...