The Interpreter Assigning Unit assigns contract consecutive and simultaneous seminar interpreters in over 40 languages, as well as English Language Officers (ELOs), to accompany visitors to the United States who are participating in U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs. These interpreters and ELOs work for three primary bureaus in the Department of State: The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Unlike conference interpreters, who work at the highest levels of government and deal with government-to-government communications, consecutive and seminar interpreters work on public diplomacy and law enforcement programs administered by various bureaus throughout the Department of State.
ECA sponsors the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP)
DS sponsors the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Training Program (ATAP)
Interpreting for international exchange programs offers the most potential freelance work, especially for people just entering the interpretation field. Although it involves interpreting for in-depth professional exchanges on a wide variety of subjects, the setting is usually informal. That fact may afford the interpreter the possibility of occasionally seeking clarification from the speaker or, when interpreting in the simultaneous mode, even influencing the speed of the discussion when necessary so that the interpreter can keep up with the speaker.
The program that requires the largest number of Language Services’ contract interpreters is the International Visitor Program administered by the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Next in rank, according to numbers of interpreters used, is the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, administered by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
When accompanying one or a few individual exchange program visitors, a consecutive interpreter (L/I) is selected. S/he usually works as the sole interpreter, and the mode of interpretation is consecutive.
For larger delegations, simultaneous interpretation may be preferable to the consecutive mode. In such cases, a seminar interpreter (S/I) is required. The seminar interpreter hears the speaker directly through the air but speaks into portable sound transmission equipment. The members of the visiting delegation wear earphones to hear the interpreter. Seminar interpreters work in teams of two and take turns interpreting. Sometimes an administrative interpreter is added to the team. Administrative interpreters are qualified consecutive interpreters whose responsibility is to act as coordinators and facilitators between a delegation and program officers at both the national and the local levels. They rarely carry out formal interpreting duties at meetings, but rather need to be available to attend to travel, lodging, and logistical issues that may arise as the delegation moves around the country.
Interpreting for international exchange programs should not be viewed as a permanent career or as a sole means of livelihood. While the work is interesting and educational, and can be most rewarding as a contribution to international understanding, most people eventually tire of the frequent travel and of the uncertainty of receiving work offers.