This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I’m Tess Vigeland.
This week, Iran announced it started producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale. The U.N. says Iran is overstating its fuel making abilities. Still, the situation is delicate. So it’s of utmost importance that everyone involved understand each other literally. On this week’s A Day in the Work Life, we speak in tongues with a United Nations document translator.
My name is Saadun Suayeh, a United Nations employee at the Arabic Translation Service in the United Nations headquarters in New York. This was a translation from a document about a United Nations operation. This has to be translated into six languages. The official languages of U.N., these are Arabic, English, French, Russian, Chinese and Spanish. And just imagine, almost every single document that comes out will come out in six languages. That’s why, I think, there will always be demand on translators. The translators come from all over the Arab world. You have people from Morocco, from Tunisia, from Algeria, from Libya, from Egypt, from Lebanon, from Syria.
You really have to go through a very rigorous, competitive examination. After that, you have to go through a series of interviews. We are supposed to be the creme de la creme. We should set the standards, you know, of acceptable . . . As a translator, your role, really, is to be as accurate as possible to conveying the message. You are not responsible for the contents, I mean, we all have our own feelings about conditions in the world. But as a translator, you are expected to do your work impartially, confidentially, and accurately to the best of your abilities. If someone said, I’m dying to be a translator, I would say, go for it.
But I just have to ask actually a question, do you seriously see yourself as a translator or is it just because you look at the glamorous side of U.N.? You know, that big place with lots of heads of states and ministers and thing. It’s an institution where a lot of nitty-gritty kind of work takes place. Sometimes, I mean, day after day, you’re doing these documents, not all of them are interesting. Some of them are well written. Some of them are badly written. There is a lot of drudgery, but it has its rewards. The first . . . I get less than $7,000 per month, so you can work it out, what $83,000, I think. It hasn’t made me really rich yet, but I think still, it puts you into that comfortable bracket of the population.
Some of the computer terminology, the word virtual in English now, a virtual program, a virtual university, there is just no one word in Arabic that exists. We have to use a phrase or explain it. Now, system in Arabic is . . . so the PowerPoint system, I would say . . . PowerPoint, you see, so we get around here this way. In the final analysis, human languages are intertranslatable. It’s difficult, but they remain intertranslatable which means, there’s something common about the human mind and the human endeavor.
A Day in the Work Life was reported by Bess Kargman.
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