By Lefteris Kafatos
Preparations for international summits include collaboration and coordination between many offices within the Department of State, which includes securing foreign language interpreters. Interpreters do much more than just show up and relay what is being said. Interpreting for America’s leaders comes with a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure that all communication needs are met. The Office of Language Services Interpreting Division (LS/I) recently supported the Department and the White House at the 2019 G20 Osaka Summit, June 28-29; the 2019 G7 Summit, Aug. 24-26; and the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), Sept. 17-30.
LS/I follows multiple steps when they are requested for events. First, LS/I must ascertain which leaders the U.S. principal is likely to meet with and then see if cleared and vetted interpreters in that language are available. After that, logistics planning goes into getting those interpreters to the venue. Once everyone is on site, meetings and walk-throughs are held to ensure that the American team knows how the events will unfold. A lot of coordination not only takes place between departments but also between nations as stakeholders on both sides work to ensure that all diplomatic and security protocols are followed.
The level of support varies depending on the scale of the summit. For example, at the recent G20 Summit, two managerial staff members helped coordinate the interpreters for more than 10 bilateral meetings with foreign leaders. While at UNGA, the much larger support presence necessitated that LS/I set up a temporary field office in New York.
“The men and women of the State Department’s Language Services worked tirelessly at recent summits like UNGA to help make American diplomacy possible,” said Michael Yan, senior diplomatic interpreter for Mandarin and LS/I branch chief .
While LS/I handles many high-level visits and meetings, they also have hundreds of linguists who are collectively fluent in 50 languages and are ready to serve at meetings of all types. If your office requires interpreting support for an upcoming diplomatic event, feel free to contact LS/I at Interpreters@state.gov.