SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, today I’m here to meet up with an absolutely vital member of our team at the State Department: a diplomatic interpreter. We could not do our work without her and without them.
DR. YUN-HYANG LEE: My name is Yun-hyang Lee. I am the director of Office of Language Services in the State Department. I’m also a senior diplomatic interpreter for Korean.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, I’m about to walk into the famous Dean Acheson Auditorium, named after our 51st Secretary of State.
DR. LEE: Our office provides interpreting and translating service to our leaders, including the President, Vice President, NSC, Secretary of State, Department of State, and other agencies in the federal government.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Dr. Lee!
DR. LEE: Mr. Secretary!
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to see you.
DR. LEE: Nice to see you again.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I am really, really happy to have this conversation because I’m always on the receiving end of the most amazing team that you help lead: our interpreters. Tell me a little bit about your team. You’ve got an amazing group of people.
DR. LEE: We have about 60-some full-time staff in the office but what’s also unique is that we have about 1,000 contract translators and interpreters because it’s a huge operation. We have —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You have to cover virtually every language in the world.
DR. LEE: Exactly. So it’s a big team, but we are very, very proud to be doing what we do. Our office was established by Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, so we have about —over 200 years of history.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What I found remarkable about the interpreters is you’re somehow actually able to capture, not just the words themselves, but the feeling, the meaning, the emphasis behind them.
DR. LEE: The diplomatic interpreting, diplomatic translating is at the highest level of interpreting and translating field because in diplomacy these words are very, very carefully selected, as you know. So we try to really do justice to the words that our leaders try to convey. It is a difficult job but it is never boring as you can imagine. And the fact that you are part of the history in the making, that’s an awesome, awesome experience.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’ve worked with interpreters for about 30 years now, but I’ve only seen it from one side of things: from the receiving end. I’d actually love to see it from the interpreter’s side.
DR. LEE: We will take you and show you behind the scenes of where we work and how we work.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let’s do it! Ahhh, alright!
DR. LEE: So, Mr. Secretary, this is an interpretation booth. So let me show you how it works.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good.
DR. LEE: If we can take the headsets
SECRETARY BLINKEN: OK, never done this before.
DR. LEE: So we have a speaker over there. Usually that would be you. And she’s going to be using a quote from
DR. LEE: Dean Acheson. Yes.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Secretary Acheson. Yeah.
DR. LEE: So let me interpret that
LECTERN SPEAKER: “Negotiating in a classic diplomatic sense,
DR. LEE: (speaking in Korean)
LECTERN SPEAKER: assumes parties more anxious to agree than to disagree.”
DR. LEE: (speaking in Korean)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s amazing how you’re able to, quite literally, do it simultaneously. It’s a remarkable skill and I can tell you we can’t do our diplomacy without it. And thanks for sharing this. It’s great to be on the other side.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: To see what’s happening in the booth.
DR. LEE: Yes!
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, one thing Dr. Lee. I know you’re always looking for the best and brightest. We need more people to come into doing interpretation.
DR. LEE: We’re always looking for interpreters and translators because communication is key to everything not just diplomacy, world peace … So we’re looking for interpreters and translators in all languages. Come to us, take the exam with us, and be part of our team.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great, and see the world in the process!
DR. LEE: Exactly.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
DR. LEE: Thank you very much.