The Real Deal

When I first applied for an internship with UNESCO in Madrid for a project on Mozambican policy, I knew my languages would come in handy.  I hoped they would provide opportunities for some real work every now and then, but in fact English, Portuguese, and Spanish have already each given me the chance to complete some weighty tasks — an intern’s dream.

I spent my first week reacquainting myself with the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2010.  Shortly thereafter I got the chance to use my Portuguese researching and pricing content for an ABS-specific library we plan to establish in Mozambique.

Next came Spanish, and the last few days of last week consisted of translating and perfecting an actual ABS project proposal to the European Commission.  As in, the actual European Commission.

My task was to translate my colleague’s Spanish proposal into English.  I did my best, noted words and sentences about which I was unsure throughout the text, and sent it back to them the following day.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I lack the confidence in Spanish that I have in Portuguese, and ABS is a fairly confusing topic even in English. However, what ensued was genuinely fun. 

The three of us together spent the next two days talking through each point of contingency in the proposal.  Many of my translation blunders had been at points where they were still trying to clarify exactly what they meant even in Spanish, which definitely eased my initial anxieties.  We spent hours discussing the full and abstract meanings of words, and they genuinely trusted me to fully rework my original and more direct translation without losing their precise meaning.  Obviously, it’s quite a safety net that they both speak English very well and read in English often.

I realize this doesn’t equate “fun” for everyone, but for a type A, project-loving, literary dork who loves learning languages (but is not particularly talented at them), there are few things I would rather do with my workday.

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