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Overview of keynote speech by Mengesha
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Mr. Yohannes Mengesha, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, delivers a speech at  the 18th World Congress of the International Federation of Translators, August 4,2008.

The theme of the keynote address by Mr. Yohannes Mengesha, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, was "United Nations Translators and Interpreters – Silent Partners in the Diplomatic Process." The speech focused on the role of UN language specialists in facilitating political dialogue and diplomatic negotiations between Member States. Mr. Mengesha highlighted the distinctive features and special conditions of translation in a universal political institution like the United Nations, where cultural and linguistic diversity color the diplomatic process and pose unique challenges to language staff. Concrete examples of these challenges, drawn from real life experience, were presented. The role of the United Nations and its language staff in promoting multilingualism and respect for cultural diversity was described. Information was presented on the contribution of United Nations language staff to the observance in 2008 of the International Year of Languages, proclaimed by UNESCO and the United Nations General Assembly.

Translation in such a context is not so much a job or occupation as it is a calling and vocation that requires translators and interpreters to be world-class professionals who are nonetheless willing to accept the lack of recognition that comes from working in the shadows of diplomatic negotiations, constantly subordinating their voice to that of authors and the parties to the negotiations. The UN translator and interpreter must therefore be psychologically comfortable with playing a secondary or supporting role. Finding linguists with an excellent command of three United Nations official languages who are at the same time highly accomplished and detail-oriented, on the one hand, and self-effacing and creative, on the other hand, -- a rare combination of traits -- is a constant challenge to the recruitment efforts of the United Nations.

Mr. Mengesha also presented the profile of qualities, qualifications and competencies required of United Nations translators and outlined procedures for the recruitment of language staff.

(China.org.cn August 4, 2008)

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