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Our people at the UN

[b]The job of interpreter / translator opens up various opportunities to work with people from around the world, studying their traditions and lifestyle, as well as to gaining acquaintance with their culture [/b]Minsk’s State Linguistic University is Belarus’ major ‘supplier’ of translators and interpreters, training specialists since 1964 in its divisions of corresponding language departments and, from 1969, at its independent School of Translation and Interpreting.
The job of interpreter / translator opens up various opportunities to work with people from around the world, studying their traditions and lifestyle, as well as to gaining acquaintance with their culture

Minsk’s State Linguistic University is Belarus’ major ‘supplier’ of translators and interpreters, training specialists since 1964 in its divisions of corresponding language departments and, from 1969, at its independent School of Translation and Interpreting.
2010 began with pleasant news for MSLU students, since the university and the UN Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management, Muhammad Shaaban, signed a memorandum on mutual understanding. According to the document, Minsk’s State Linguistic University is to train high class translators and interpreters for the UN.
Alexander Ponimatko, the Dean of MSLU’s School of Translation and Interpreting, tells us about new professional opportunities which have opened up for his students, as well as other international projects and partner work with Minsk’s State Linguistic University.

[MSLU is the 16th university with which the UN has signed a memorandum on co-operation. How did the University earn this honour?
Actually, the UN has signed memorandums on mutual understanding with nine universities from various countries. A further seven are to sign up in 2010, with Minsk’s State Linguistic University the first of these. After visiting Belarus, Mr. Shaaban went to Russia to sign a memorandum with Lomonosov Moscow State University. Other European universities are next in line.
Since there are six working languages at the UN, memorandums on mutual understanding are to be signed with universities from countries representing these languages. Russian will be represented by four higher educational establishments: three from Russia and one from Belarus. The remaining languages — French, Arabic, Chinese, English and Spanish — will be ensured by two universities for each particular language.

What inspired the signing of these memorandums?
At present, UN linguistic services, which employ around 2,000 specialists, are seeking new staff, since several are reaching retirement age — particularly those with Russian language. Mr. Shaaban tells us that around 40 experts are to retire, inspiring an urgent need for replacements. However, competitive examinations conducted by the UN’s linguistic department demonstrated insufficient professional training of graduates at many universities, especially in the post-Soviet space. They aren’t ready to pass such high level exams. Additional training is needed and /or we need to adjust our syllabus and training methods.

What does the signed memorandum envisage? How will these new UN specialists be trained?
Firstly, the memorandum envisages an adjustment to our syllabus and programmes, with direct involvement of specialists from the Department for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management. Secondly, we are creating a second stage of higher education for translator / interpreter training and may set up a high school of translation and interpreting as part of our Master’s Degree programme. This will enable us to train high class specialists, able to pass exams for further employment with UN linguistic services. Thirdly, UN linguistic service employees will provide consultative assistance while giving lectures, conducting master classes and workshops for teachers, and taking part in state exams.

How will these be implemented?
As noted, specialists from UN linguistic departments will visit our University. Since the UN headquarters is situated in New York, with branches located in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, we’ve agreed that specialists working in Geneva and Vienna will come to us. The UN will oversee the educational process, providing suitable materials for translation and interpreting: texts of various resolutions, memorandums and agreements, as well as terminological dictionaries.

Will students pass internships at the UN?
Yes, this area of co-operation envisages internships for up to 2 months, enabling our graduates to visit UN representation offices while familiarising themselves with the work of translators and interpreters, as well as short hand typists and editors.

When will training in compliance with the signed memorandum begin?
It’s already begun. We’ll receive recommendations from UN linguistic services’ curators and will introduce them into our syllabuses and programmes. Firstly, we’ll begin with written translation, as was agreed with Mr. Shaaban. We’ll inform students of opportunities to pass internships at the UN, about conditions for passing exams and requirements for applicants.

I believe these requirements are very high?
One of the strictest requirements for future specialists is perfect command of two foreign languages. However, practice shows that, usually, university graduates’ linguistic proficiency in their first foreign language is higher. We’ll try to improve the situation when training our students.

Which other international projects are being implemented by the University, and by its Translation and Interpreting School in particular?
An important event in this area took place last year. Minsk’s State Linguistic University became a member of the International University Association, training translators and interpreters. This is a great achievement, enabling us to co-ordinate our activities, primarily with European universities training translators and interpreters. Additionally, we’ll be able to take part in seminars, conferences and round table discussions to learn about foreign experience and the latest technologies used in translator and interpreter training. Moreover, the University has 52 operational treaties of co-operation with foreign partners and takes part in 19 international programmes. Being a leader in Belarus’ linguistic education, the MSLU is also a centre of major international events organised in the country.

Does the MSLU support contacts with Embassies accredited in Belarus?
Of course. We teach 14 foreign languages and gain assistance from embassies using these as state languages. On the one hand, they provide the University with high level specialists; we employ highly qualified teachers whose native languages are Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Persian, Swedish and Spanish. On the other hand, they also help us create a system of centres of language and culture, equipping them with contemporary technical equipment (satellite television and computers), providing modern educational programmes, teaching materials and dictionaries.

How many foreign students currently study at the University?
We have a foreign division at our School of Translation and Interpreting, with a rising number of students. At present, 285 foreign students from 23 countries study intercultural communication and foreign languages (among them, those from Argentina, Norway, China, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan). They are also interested in the memorandum on co-operation, signed with the UN.

Where do your alumni work?
All over the world: as Belarusian representatives at the UN, as Belarusian Ambassadors around the globe (such as in Germany and Italy), at the Presidential Administration, the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry, as well as at leading enterprises and companies in Belarus, liasing with foreign partners.

Does the University train enough translators and interpreters?
There’s no deficit of these specialists in the country, since other universities also train them.

What is the role of Minsk’s State Linguistic University in developing Belarus’ international interrelations?
The University plays an important role, since we prepare specialists in intercultural communication. Without them, intercultural communication wouldn’t exist or would be inefficient. We are working in several directions. Firstly, we train teachers, who prepare youngsters for intercultural dialogue. Secondly, we train translators and interpreters, who ensure this dialogue. Thirdly, we train and re-train (in foreign languages) leading specialists from various branches. Sometimes, because of lack of knowledge of a foreign language, we fail to deliver some initiatives from abroad, but I believe that our University is a leader in all these directions.

By Lyudmila Minkevich
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