If you’re an interpreter adding a new language or exploring a new subject, speech repositories can be real gold mines.

Also known as speech banks, they tend to include material designed for practice purposes. Speeches are generally recorded by interpreter trainers (EU Speech Repository), interpreters (AmeriVox, IBPG, PIPS, Repris, TIP and WISE), or students (Speechpool).

But what if you’re looking for thousands of hours of authentic high-level speeches and recordings of the interpretation as delivered? Look no further than the UN Digital Repository, a little-known treasure trove.

The UN Digital Recordings Portal

When most interpreters search for speeches delivered at the United Nations, they stumble across UN Web TV. That platform includes on-demand and live video in all UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian). But there’s a catch: most videos only include the original language and the English interpretation. Plus, the platform doesn’t allow you to download videos, which makes practice a bit trickier.

Enter the UN Digital Recordings Portal, which includes recordings from thousands of meetings at the United Nations.

New recordings of speeches and simultaneous interpreting at meetings are uploaded every single day. You can search the materials by date, organization or committee, and keyword. The repository also includes the speaker’s name and time markers, which makes it easier to find practice materials in a given language.

Here’s an example. Search for a recent session of the Human Rights Council. Want to practice, say, Arabic? Scroll down to find an Arabic-speaking country, then click play to hear the speech in the original language or “Download current language” to download it. Select one of the other languages to play or download the interpretation.

We recommend downloading several speeches before you start practicing. (Pro tip: Longer speeches tend to be delivered at a slightly slower pace. 🐌 )

Simple tech for recording and listening

Now it’s time to set up the tech. We recommend Audacity, a free multi-track audio editor which runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Just select your microphone and headphones, import the speech, then click the record button and start interpreting. You can adjust the volume using the +/- slider or pan the audio to one ear using the L/R slider.

Once you’ve finished interpreting the speech, stop the recording and take a breather. Congratulations - you’ve made it through a UN speech! 👏

Next, mute the original track and listen to your own recording.

Listening to your interpretation and the original at the same time is also a piece of cake. Pan one track all the way to the left ear and one to the right ear, then hit play. Of course, you can pause, stop, or rewind the recording to listen to a tricky passage again or take some notes.

It can be helpful to listen to the original, then your interpretation, then both tracks simultaneously.

Learn from the pros

Bonus: the Digital Recordings Portal includes the simultaneous interpretation of every speech.

Before comparing yourself to the professionals, start by listening to their work. Try to identify strategies they use and jot down useful expressions, terminology and turns of phrase.

Once you’ve started to gain an understanding of UN jargon, it may be helpful to listen to the original speech and professional interpretation, again panning one recording to each ear.

And finally, why not listen to your own rendition in one ear and the professional rendition in the other? You’ll quickly identify plenty of ways to upgrade your own vocabulary and improve your technique.

Practice makes perfect

The speed and caliber of UN speeches can seem overwhelming at first. Don’t be too hard on yourself! Remember that staff interpreters have been working for years and often receive the texts in advance.

Josh used the approach we’ve described here to train for the UN’s accreditation exam - and didn’t pass the first time around. 😊 But he kept practicing and eventually gained a solid enough grasp of UN speeches to pass the Language Competitive Examination.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Digital Recordings Portal and find a speech you’d like to practice. As you do so, listen critically to your work, learn from the pros, and keep improving every day.

This column was first published in the 313th edition (March 2021) of the Tool Box Journal.

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