Sabela Avion-Martinez (MATI ‘01) is currently a Spanish Translator at the United Nations based in New York City. She came back to MIIS during an Alumni Reunion in October, 2015 and made a presentation to current students on career opportunities at the UN. I was impressed by her warmth, openness and her commitment to the growth of our future colleagues. I made a mental note that she is someone I want to interview when my blog is up. Here is our conversation.
1. What aspects of your work experience prior to joining the UN do you feel prepared you well for your current work?
I had always wanted to work at the United Nations, but I also knew I had to get experience in other fields. After graduating from MIIS, I worked for a large localization company between 2002 and 2006. I learned about translation processes, tools, budgeting and scheduling, client-provider relations… I’ve found myself applying all these skills at the UN at different stages.
Meanwhile, I kept an eye on any developments regarding careers at the United Nations. This has become increasingly easier over the years, as interested candidates have now access to a great deal of information on working at the UN in different language positions (editors, verbatim reporters, interpreters…), and exams or working opportunities.
2. What does your typical day look like at the UN?
If I don’t have an assignment to finish, I let the Programming Officer know I’m available. As soon as a document comes in, she’ll evaluate it and assign it.
We have our own CAT tool, called eLUNa – a translation interface specifically developed for the translation of United Nations documents. It provides access to previously translated documents (bitexts), terminology records and machine translations. As a longtime user of CAT tools, I’ve run the gamut from traditional to proprietary. This new system is web-based, and it’s been developed and adapted according to the specifications and requests of UN translators from all duty stations.
During the translation process, sometimes we find new terms without a set equivalent in Spanish. In those cases, we work together with our terminologists to improve our UNTERM Portal.
We also perform QC tasks on translations done externally. We provide them with an evaluation of their translation. Both internally and externally, translators are expected to have excellent translation skills, a perfect command of Spanish and a wide knowledge of the topics at hand.
3. What aspects of your education at MIIS do you feel prepared you well for your current work?
Language awareness. It’s an odd thing to say to speakers of other languages, but Spanish is the official language in 21 countries, and has a large number of speakers in many others. At MIIS, I learned Spanish from my Mexican, Colombian and Argentinean classmates.
4. What are the things that you know now that you wish you had known when you were a student at MIIS?
Try to make room for classes in other programs.
Find a language partner in your foreign language.
Don’t forget about your mother tongue.
Live in a foreign country!
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