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interpret/translate @ US Dept of State

Friday 9 April, 2010

The International Visitors Center of Chicago hosted Matthew Klimow, Director of the Office of  Language Services, & his associate Julien, who flew in from Washington, D.C. Department of State to present Privilege of a Lifetime; Serving at the State Department.  Their focus was mainly on opportunities for those who speak multiple languages & speak/write them well enough to perform those functions professionally.  Klimow heads up the group which provides interpreters (for spoken interpretation) & translators (for written translation) for the diplomats @ the Dept. of State.   He heads a staff of 65 linguists in D.C. & Geneva, CH, & works with 1800 contractors.

He opened by relating the story of a secretive document requested by the President to go to the head of a country with which we have a frosty relationship.  They debated the meaning & intent of each phrase as both art & science.  (Machine translations for this stuff would be comical.)  They were sworn to secrecy, but 2 weeks later the letter was leaked to the New York Times, but regardless, they had accomplished their mission.  They were just working on the START treaty with the Russians.

They do their own testing to fill these positions in Washington.  A security clearance is required.  Not all of these people are US citizens.  There are a number of scholarships & grants available to help build these skills:

The International Visitors Leadership Program needs interpreters throughout the country.  4400 rising star visitors come to the US in this program for 3 weeks.  Nikolas Sarkozy, 300 heads of state, & 40 nobel laureates participated in the past.

Q&A

  • DOS is always looking for talent, including romance language speakers.  Russian & Chinese are in demand.  Look @ usajobs for jobs, but contracting positions are not there.
  • The Foreign Service Institute teaches DOS employees languages & other international informational programs.
  • President Barak Obama speaks Bahasa Indonesian from his time living in Indonesia.
  • Opportunities exist in US embassies, i.e. of the 900 in Frankfurt (Berlin?), 500 are Germans & 400 are Americans.
  • It’s generally acknowledged Americans do a poor job of learning foreign languages, so the best solution is intense in-country experience.  No formal training is required.  You just need to pass the test.  For example, Julien was able to learn Arabic by living in Morocco.
  • Interpreting & translating require different skill sets.  Interpreters need to be dynamic while translators are typically more bookish, detailed, & precise.
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