The ability to communicate into and from foreign languages is essential to the conduct of United States Diplomacy. By enabling communication between U.S. leaders, officials and citizens and their foreign counterparts, interpreters working on behalf of the State Department are often an essential component of our country’s foreign policy efforts. State Department interpreters are carefully selected, rigorously tested and trained to be the voice and ears of U.S. interlocutors as they represent U.S. government interests by addressing foreign audiences, participating in international conferences, holding discussions with foreign counterparts, negotiating treaties and taking part in any activity where language differences would otherwise be a barrier to communication.
Although State Department interpreters remain out of the limelight, they are always present, facilitating communication in a wide variety of settings: whether the President of the United States is visiting a foreign country or welcoming a foreign leader, whether the Secretary of State is holding a bilateral meeting or a joint press conference with a Foreign Minister, whether a U.S. delegation is participating in trade negotiations or representing U.S. interests in a trade dispute, or whether a foreign delegation comes to our country to interact with U.S. counterparts or receives U.S. government support through a training program, State Department interpreters will provide the language support needed to successfully pursue the foreign policy goals of the U.S. government.
Diplomatic and Conference Interpreting
White House and State Department
The main priority of the Office of Language Services is to provide interpretation to the White House and the State Department. Diplomatic and Conference interpreters on our staff and Conference interpreters on our contractor rosters are an essential component of the ability that U.S. officials have to interact and communicate with representatives from other countries.
Other Federal Agencies
In addition to the coverage offered to the White House and State Department, the Office of Language Services fields requests from all Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government’s Executive Branch.
Any Federal Agency other than the White House and State Department that wishes to file a request for Interpretation services should contact our office by writing to Interpreters@state.gov. Please include the following details in your request: language, topic, dates and travel requirements, as well as any other relevant information that will allow LS to assess staffing, equipment, travel requirements and any other item to be included in a cost assessment for interpretation support.
Citizen Exchanges and Public Diplomacy
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)
The Work of International Exchange Interpreters
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.