Why Effective Diplomatic Interpreting Requires Preparation

Why Effective Diplomatic Interpreting Requires Preparation

Photo: President Barack Obama meets with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in the Oval Office, with interpreter Patsy Arizu sitting at center. White House Archives 2011 

Let’s get one thing straight – diplomatic interpreting is an intense, high-pressure event that requires a ton of preparation.

And while we believe that all translation and interpretation services should be provided at the highest-quality possible, diplomatic interpreting could very literally have an effect on foreign policy and international relations.

So let’s dig into what diplomatic interpreting is and why State departments absolutely must give their interpreters time to prepare.


in person interpreting
Simultaneous interpretation with portable equipment

What Diplomatic Interpretation Is

Diplomatic interpreting is often considered the most difficult form of language services. It involves the interpretation of a highly specific topic, without losing any nuance, and under a great deal of pressure.

Your interpreter needs to read body language, understand intent and double meanings, and translate speech to the highest degree of accuracy possible. Typically, they’ll only interpret the words of one side, and will work closely with official representatives to remove both linguistic and cultural barriers.

It can involve consecutive, whispered, or simultaneous interpretation.

Diplomatic interpreting

It’s no ordinary event

Diplomatic interpreters are under a huge amount of pressure. Any mistake, misunderstanding, or loss of nuance can directly affect international relations.

Since their choice of words can affect the mood and direction of the event, any misunderstanding – however subtle – can have an enormous impact.

So you can be sure that professional interpretation services require more preparation than for more casual situations.

Diplomatic interpreters need to prepare

In order to perform the service to the required degree of accuracy, diplomatic interpreters need to do considerable research and preparation. They might even need to get specific interpretation equipment for conferences and events.

They’ll be working on:

● In-depth knowledge of the political situation for both countries
● Developing an instantaneous command of hyper-specific vocabulary
● Mastering relevant customs for the context
● Preventing common linguistic and cultural barriers
● Transmitting the style and tone of the speaker

During the event, diplomatic interpreters need to be able to instantly command, adapt, and understand highly specific meanings. They need to be able to transmit those ideas appropriately – all while being culturally sensitive to the other party.


Press Conference between USA and Mexico Government
Press Conference between USA and Mexico Government

Interpreters are sworn to secrecy

One huge concern for State departments is the confidential nature of the meetings.

And while it is absolutely understandable that embassies, ministries, and diplomats want to maintain unyielding privacy, these official representatives must know:

Diplomatic interpreters are sworn to absolute secrecy.

So give your interpreters the time and resources to prepare, without worrying about confidentiality.

How to prepare for diplomatic interpreting

One huge concern for State departments is the confidential nature of the meetings.

Most of the time, your interpreter will need around a month and a half to prepare for the event effectively. At a minimum – they’ll need 3 weeks to get ready.

They’ll be studying:

● The representative’s style and tone of voice
● Common idioms and jargon
● Context-relevant vocabulary
● The political situation
● Linguistic and cultural differences that are relevant
● Possible misinterpretations that could occur
● Behavioral and linguistic practices

So make sure to provide your interpreter with context. They’ll need speeches, reference material, information about the speaker, and agendas far in advance.

The more information they have, the more effective it will be.

Diplomatic interpreters in DC

While diplomatic interpreting is absolutely the most intense form of the service – that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

While diplomatic interpreting is absolutely the most intense form of the service – that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If you’re interested in diplomatic interpreters in DC, Global YNS is prepared to provide the highest-quality service possible.

Reach out to us here to get started.

Photo Credit, The Woodrow Wilson Center ® All rights reserved.

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