Interpreters pull up a chair during a meeting of high-ranking politicians

Interpreters are essential in international meetings of heads of state. Imagine a United Nations session: representatives from all 193 member states are present. Even though the number of official languages spoken at the UN is limited to six, many people don’t speak the same language. You could see it as a modern Tower of Babel in New York.

Diplomatic interpreting is specialised work where an extensive knowledge of many different subjects is crucial. When high-ranking politicians and heads of state meet, they discuss important and controversial issues. Heads of state recognise the enormous importance of interpreting.

Diplomatic interpreting as a knowledge resource

To underscore this idea, Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States in the sixties, was once asked what he would do if his entire cabinet went on strike. His answer: ‘I would replace my cabinet with interpreters until a permanent solution could be found. Interpreters already possess enough knowledge of affairs of state to work in my cabinet.’

Experienced diplomatic interpreters have a vast amount of comprehensive knowledge they have accumulated in their work, including knowledge of various cultural and ethical matters. They also have an excellent ability to concentrate; interpreters have to remain focussed on the voice and the message of the person they are interpreting, because diplomatic interpreting is often done simultaneously.


Diplomatic interpreters attend meetings where highly sensitive information is discussed. Political leaders make decisions that can sometimes affect millions of people. That’s why unambiguous communication is of paramount importance; there is absolutely no room for miscommunication or misunderstandings. Using interpreters minimises the chances of this happening and contributes to conveying information without any restrictions. A strict requirement for a diplomatic interpreter is that he or she has to be utterly reliable, discrete and the type of person who pays attention even to the smallest details.

Diplomatic interpreters find themselves working in a variety of situations: the interpreter has to feel at ease both in front of a large audience (millions of television viewers b) and in personal meetings with heads of state. While this isn’t something that happens every day, it’s certainly part of the job..

Performing under pressure

A factor that determines the success of international meetings is that every participant understands what is being discussed. During an event such as a high-level political summit, all participants want to achieve their objectives in the discussions. Using the right interpreter is especially important in such situations. It’s not uncommon for tensions and negative emotions to emerge during meetings. This puts extra pressure on the interpreter.

As you can see, interpreting is a complex profession. And not every interpreter is able to cope with the pressures of diplomatic interpreting. You can always count on HearHear to find the most suitable interpreter  along with the right equipment needed for your meeting. And if the pressure does mount, our interpreters know how to keep their cool.