How to Refresh Your Translation Career

Oct 3, 2017 | Careers

Fall always brings memories of “back to school”, or even “back to business”. Summer vacations over, now it’s time to get back to work. Put the pedal to the metal. Get the nose to the grindstone. Refresh your translation career. But how?

There are many language refresher tips and tools for polyglots. If you want a real challenge, I would suggest looking at translation and interpretation careers in the United Nations (UN) system. Beyond the personal satisfaction of contributing to making a better world, a UN translation career is one of the most profitable careers for polyglots.

If you do not want to work for the United Nations, I still recommend taking the UN language competency exam (LCE) just to make yourself more marketable in your translation job.

I recently sat for the first part of the infamous LCE. Surprisingly, taking the exam was not nearly as hard as figuring out how to register for it!

Here are some simple facts to help you through the process. The official United Nations LCE website has all of the information, though ironically not presented clearly.

Check Your Credentials

The six official UN languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. You must have “a perfect command of one of these languages and excellent knowledge of at least one other.” The exception is German, for which the UN has a small unit in NYC. German speakers need only one other official UN language.

To be clear: to sit for most LCE options, you need mother tongue in one of the six, PLUS another two. For example, you are French mother tongue with perfect command of Spanish and excellent knowledge of Russian.

Decide on What Kind of Exam You Want to Take

There are exams for translation and interpretation. There are also exams custom made for copywriters and editors, as well as other specific skill sets. Make sure to read through the options and select your exam(s) carefully based on your desired translation career.

Check the Exam Schedule

The LCE website updates exam dates, the first part of which are taken online.

The website is not updated regularly, nor does it offer a notification service. I suggest checking it every day if you are serious about bringing your translation career up to the next level.

Apply to Take the Exam

Similar to a job application, you must apply for the exam to gain a virtual seat. Do not underestimate how long it will take you to complete this application! Make it stand out!

The LCE website walks you through the steps to set up your online profile and application.

Preparing for the Exam

If you search the internet hard enough, there are examples of the LCE individual components online. The website prepares you only in that it stipulates what kind of texts will be presented. So far in 2017, it has either been “legal” or “economic” texts, all related to international development documents.

While the LCE website says it is not necessary, I would highly recommend studying the UN style guide and manuals beforehand. These are all available online.

Like any boost to your translation career, I recommend immersing yourself in the languages you choose.

In this case, not just any media or company will do. Focus on United Nations documents and films and find yourself a language meet-up with humanitarian professionals in it. You will need to be familiar with humanitarian terminology and constructs if you want to make it through!

Taking the First Part of the Exam

Treat the LCE like any major exam or presentation in your life.

I found the exam exhausting and a bit grueling, even if I love translation! You are under time restrictions and of course mental pressure. Lucky for me I was in a time zone only four hours ahead of NYC. You may end up having to take the exam in the wee hours of the night.

Get good rest the night before. Make sure you have access to plenty of water and healthy food to quickly eat on breaks between the exam sections.

Last words of advice: be ready with the email address where you need to immediately report any technical glitches. I was working on a very slow internet speed, I recommend not doing that! All technical information is sent beforehand in terms of what you need.


Perhaps needless-to-say, but the United Nations system can be quite slow. Check back on the LCE website for test results, and be prepared to wait. Refreshing your translation career this way will be slow.

I took the exam on 8 April 2017 and as of 26 August 2017, still no results. Meanwhile, other exams have been graded and are onto the second parts. This part of the LCE system remains a mystery.

If I pass, I move onto the second phase of the exam. From what I can gather, that happens in person in a location I do not choose. The only thing I am sure of, you have to pay your own way to get there!