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How To Prepare For the UN Interpreter Exam

4th November, 2016 I by Natalie White

Every aspiring United Nations Interpreter is required to take an exam so that their ability to perform the role at this official level may be evaluated. A UN interpreter has one of the most competitive and demanding roles, so how can you best prepare yourself to stand out among the competition?

The United Nations operates with 6 official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. These are the languages in which the Language Competitive Examinations (LCEs) are offered, an examination that a required evaluation for those applying to become an interpreter for the organization. Through these exams, aspiring interpreters of the UN must exhibit flawless command of at least one of the six official languages, and must also prove exceptional knowledge of two others. The format of the exams will differ based on language, and the setup of the exam in a given language is never the same. This can make the preparation for these exams seem daunting, but it is a way to ensure that those who pass the exam are absolutely qualified to interpret at this level. Before taking the exam, one of the best ways to prepare is to research the position of a UN interpreter so that you Understand The Role. UN interpreters are not only expected to have mastery-level skills in their languages, but also extensive knowledge of the work that the UN is involved in, particularly international affairs. This involves specialized vocabulary in multiple fields, in each language that the interpreter provides. Successful interpreters never stop researching and learning UN specific terminology, current events, and cultural differences in the languages they need to be prepared for. Get accustomed to regularly searching for information that will be useful in this work.

The LCE for interpreters includes a written and oral portion. Therefore, the next important part of preparation for the examination is to Complete Multiple Practice Examinations. Examples of past examinations can be found on the UN careers website (https://careers.un.org/lbw/home.aspx?viewtype=LCRSE). The written portion of the examination for interpreters will include a simultaneous interpretation, so although these examples are found in text format, you should practice speaking your interpretation instead of translating it by hand. Record yourself interpreting the sample text, so that you can play back your attempt and recognize your delivery. Certain aspects to improve upon should be speed, accuracy, grammatical correctness, and diction. With continued practice, this will strengthen your confidence in your speech when interpreting what you see.

The other part of the process is the oral examination. This is executed in an interview setting, similar to applying for any job. You should be prepared to explain and show how your skills, experience and understanding of the role have prepared you for the stress and responsibility that come with this role.

While challenging, becoming a UN interpreter can be the opportunity of a lifetime. What are your thoughts on the complex requirements and examination process for UN interpreters? Share your thoughts below!


You may also be interested in the following:

Ebook: A Resource for Working With Interpreters and Interpretation Equipment

Article: How to Become a UN Interpreter

Article: The World’s Ten Most Translated Authors

Article: Simultaneous Interpretation and the Brain

7 responses to “How To Prepare For the UN Interpreter Exam”

  1. Agnese says:

    Thank you very much for this useful post! I have one doubt though: is it true that you need to be a native speaker of one of the official languages of the UN in order to be eligible as a UN interpreter? I’m Polish and I study interpreting in one of the most recognized faculties in this field in Italy and this is what we’ve been told right at the beginning of our path as students… It’s been quite discouraging to hear that but you’re not mentioning it in the text…maybe it’s just a rumour then (hope is the last to die;)? Interpreting between two foreign languages is challenging but not challenging enough to discourage me from having a try, as I already interpret between English, Spanish and Portuguese from and into Italian 😉 In fact, if Portuguese were to become a new official language of the UN, it would be great news for me 😉 Would there be hope for me then at the UN or was I simply born in the wrong place?…

    • D says:


      You do have to be a native speaker of one of the languages. I have heard people trying to interpret between two foreign languages and the results were embarrassing. It is not impossible but most people are incapable. You say you are Polish but you work into Italian, so you must have some near native level of Italian? More than just having studied it at school? So in that case it’s slightly different if you’ve grown up in a bilingual environment.

      Professional interpreters on the UN/EU market do not work between two foreign languages and you would be frowned upon and even ostricised for attempting to do so. This is what I have seen happen.

      If I were you I would try the EU as Polish is a major language. All you need is English and one other language.

  2. Joe says:

    What is the salary? Where would I get to work if I was interested in this career?

  3. Deina says:


    Where shell I register for the exam?

    Thank you very much


  4. Tim Tinat says:

    Very nice piece of article, however what is the effect of this
    Exams on developing countries? and is same standard for all
    Countries whether developed or under developed?

  5. Lin says:

    Thank you very much for the article! I am sitting an upcoming UN LCE written assessment test for interpreters. There is one thing that I didn’t quite understand in your article, “The written portion of the examination for interpreters will include a simultaneous interpretation, so although these examples are found in text format, you should practice speaking your interpretation instead of translating it by hand. ” Your clarification would be greatly appreciated, and any advice on the preparation will be welcomed. Also, the examples of past exams don’t include the ones for interpreters. Is there anywhere we can find an example? Thanks very much for your help!

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