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University of Geneva

International Organizations for Interpreters

University of Geneva via Coursera


This course is primarily aimed at students of conference interpreting, or people who wish to begin studying conference interpreting. It is based on a long-standing lecture course given by the oldest interpreting school in the world, the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Geneva.

Our course looks at organizations from a viewpoint which very few people ever get to see; international organizations seen from the interpreting booth. You will learn about the history, development, structure and functions of international organizations, and of course the question of multilingualism.

The purpose of this course is to help you, as a budding interpreter or translator, to gain basic knowledge about the institutions which may be your future employers, and to give you the essential tools that you will need to easily and efficiently prepare yourself for working at an international organization.

Naturally, Geneva – renowned for its uniquely high concentration of international organizations – takes centre stage in this course. Throughout this course, we will take you with us to visit a number of these organizations, and to benefit from interviews with various experts who will give us an insider’s view of multilateralism, multilingualism and the other topics broached in the course.


  • International Geneva
    • Welcome to Module 1 of our course. In this Module you will find out how Geneva became a centre of multilateralism, learn about the main international organizations in Geneva, and learn how to identify different kinds of international organization.
  • History, Evolution and Trends
    • Welcome to Module 2 of our course. In this Module you will learn about the founding of the first international organizations and the growth of the multilateral system. We will focus in particular on the League of Nations, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN system as a whole.
  • The Structure of International Organizations
    • Welcome to Module 3 of our course. In this Module you will learn about the legal status of international organizations and the functions of their basic texts. We will then examine the structure of organizations, focussing on identifying the various kinds of body found within them. Finally, you will learn about the different kinds of entity that make up the UN system, in particular the UN specialized agencies.
  • The Competencies and Functioning of International Organizations
    • Welcome to Module 4 of our course. In this Module you will learn about the mandates and roles of international organizations. We will look at the tendency of organizations' mandates to gradually expand, and the problems that can ensue. You will also learn how international organizations make decisions.
  • Multilingualism in International Organizations
    • Welcome to Module 5 of our course. The Module focusses on topics that are of particular interest to future conference interpreters: languages and multilingualism. You will first learn how the current multilingual system at the UN came to be, which, of course, would not have been possible without simultaneous interpreting. You will learn about the founding of our profession, and the important distinction between official and working languages. We will then examine two important issues linked to multilingualism: the increasing dominance of English and the cost of multilingualism within international organizations.
  • Conclusion
    • Welcome to the final Module of our course. This Module will help you assess the benefits and shortcomings of international organizations. We will look at the numerous flaws of international organizations, and the cost of the multilateral system — including typical IO budgets — but we will also assess the importance of international organizations and the multilateral system as a whole.

Taught by

Dominique Leveillé and Claire Bessant

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