The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020 - 22

FEATURE

BY IZASKUN ORKWIS

Going Institutional: A
Primer on Translation for
International Organizations
Many experienced translators consider a shift toward international
organizations, either as part of the staff or as freelancers. But how is
translating for an international organization different from commercial
translation? This overview will consider what matters most when translating
for an international organization.

M

any translators consider translating
for an international organization
as a next step in their career,
possibly leading to greater stability, better
pay, and more interesting assignments.
Things don't always work out that way,
and institutional translation is not for
everyone, but if you want to give it a try,
here's a summary of what to expect.

HOW IS INSTITUTIONAL
TRANSLATION DIFFERENT?
There may be several reasons why
an international organization needs
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The ATA Chronicle | May/June 2020

translation services, but the main
one is that many of them have
official languages, defined as such in
their charters. Some organizations
differentiate between official and
working languages, although there
are differences in what each term
means: in some institutions, working
languages are a subset of official
languages, and vice versa. The key idea,
however, is that some organizations
are mandated to make at least some of
their documents available in more than
one language. Depending on the size

of the organization, they may have an
in-house team of translators, revisers,
and other language specialists, or rely
on subcontractors, or use a combination
of both.
A lot of the documents that are
translated in an institutional setting
consist of parliamentary documentation,
which means documents that are
circulated before a meeting and then
discussed, negotiated, and voted on.
Obviously, the different language
versions must match exactly, including
all nuances and formal structure.
Otherwise, imagine the delegate from
Narnia saying, "I will only vote in favor
if we remove the bracketed phrase in
paragraph 47," and the delegate from
Lalaland responding, "there is no
bracketed phrase in paragraph 47 of
my document." It doesn't matter if the
translation was otherwise correct and
the expression was set between
commas. If the meeting has to stop
because of a translation issue, the
credibility of the entire document is
compromised, and that might impact
the flow of negotiation. Sure, replacing
parentheses with commas may be fine
in other contexts, but not in
institutional translation.

A salient characteristic of
institutional translation is the
need for the final product to be
entirely anonymous, without a
trace of the personal voice of an
individual translator.

So, how is institutional translation
different from other types of translation?
The truth is, it's not that different from
translating for a large company. There
will be glossaries, style guides, and
conventions or "house rules." There will
also be many reference documents that
may be similar or almost identical to the
text at hand. There will be humongous
databases and parallel corpora that will
be both a blessing (the answer to your
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The ATA Chronicle - May/June 2020

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