Learning your ABCs – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part I)

The Interpreter Diaries has now been around for about two months, and by now many readers might be asking themselves how it is possible that in all that time, this blog on interpreting has not yet done much talking about languages – aren’t languages what it’s all about, after all? To make up for it, I’m going to dedicate the next three posts to exploring the ins and outs of the interpreter’s language combination.

Every interpreter works with a number of different languages – at least two, often as many as five or six, and sometimes even more. An ABC classification system has been developed to describe the different categories of working languages that interpreters can have, and how they will work with each.

Let’s start with the official definitions of an interpreter’s working languages as provided by AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters:

            Active languages

A: The interpreter’s native language (or another language strictly equivalent to a native language), into which the interpreter works from all her other languages.

B: A language other than the interpreter’s native language, of which she has a perfect command and into which she works from one or more of her other languages.

           Passive languages

C: Languages, of which the interpreter has a complete understanding and from which she works.

So far, so good – it all seems quite straightforward. So what’s there to talk about? Well, unfortunately, there is often a lot of confusion about interpreters’ working languages amongst the general public, and sometimes even amongst aspiring interpreters as well. That’s why I’d like to go beyond the official definitions and look at the ABCs in practice.

This week’s post will look at the active languages (A and B), and next week’s post will tackle the passive languages (C). Part three of the language combination series will look at … something else.

A – The Mother Tongue

This is the easy one, you’re probably thinking right now. Everybody’s got a mother, so everybody must have a mother tongue (except for bilinguals, of course, who have two). Right? Well, yes and no. Virtually everybody grows up with a mother tongue, it’s true (more on the “virtually” in a moment). But sadly for many interpreter hopefuls, the quality of their native language does often not meet the standard required for working as an interpreter.

This is probably one of the main problems faced by people who would like to become interpreters – and even by interpreting graduates trying to get jobs at international institutions or elsewhere (for an excellent blog post on this, read Aida’s post entitled Con la lengua materna hemos topado, which looks at this problem as faced by applicants to the UN).

As an interpreter, you need to be able to express yourself well in many different registers and have access to a broad active vocabulary covering different fields. Just growing up speaking a language does not automatically mean you will have these skills. I see it all the time in the early days of a course, when students can’t seem to stop themselves from talking like they do to their friends in the bar and start sounding like interpreters.

That’s the bad news; the good news is that these skills in one’s native language can usually be acquired through much diligence and application. This is one of the objectives of an interpreter training course – it’s not just about learning how to speak and listen at the same time!

One mother tongue or two … or none?

Still on the subject of A languages, I want to look briefly at two possible cases: that of the person with two As, and that of the person with no A at all. Let’s take the second one first: the case of the alingual (author’s note: for a closer look at this term and how it should be used in the context of interpreter training, read the comments section for this post). This term is used to describe a person with no mother tongue. Now before you go raising your eyebrows at me, let me illustrate this apparent impossibility by means of an example.

Some years ago, I had the good fortune to work with a student who, for reasons of upbringing and education (this guy had a killer CV!), had a near-to-perfect command of three languages. I mean it – there was nothing you could put past him in French, English or Spanish! Almost all students have gaps in their language knowledge of some sort – say, certain regional accents, registers or fields that they’re not familiar with – but not this student. He understood it all.

However, when we started working at developing his interpreting skills into two of these languages (he had started the course with two As), we started to realize that his three languages were interfering with each other. Although his accent was flawless in both of his active languages, he would often come up with turns of phrase or expressions that proved jarring to the ear of a native speaker. And he had a lot of trouble with false friends across the different languages. What we had on our hands was an alingual – a multilingual person who speaks several languages, but none at a native level.

There is a happy ending to this story. The student dropped one of his As, and by focussing on developing a single active language to the level required for the booth, managed to “clean up his act” in time for the exams. I’m pleased to say that he is now working as a freelance interpreter in Geneva – and if I’m not mistaken, about to take a certification exam for his second A as well.

Unfortunately for other alinguals out there, there’s not always a happy ending. The fact of having grown up in a bilingual environment sometimes proves more of a curse than a blessing to people – at least if they have aspirations to become interpreters.

This brings me to the next bit I wanted to deal with: the bilingual interpreter. It does happen that some people have two mother tongues, although it is quite rare. In this case they are said to have a “double A”. Much more common among interpreters is a combination with one A language (native) and one B (near-native but not quite).

Time for some figures: a brief perusal of the listings of AIIC interpreters in Germany (the country has been selected at random) will reveal a total of 15 interpreters with double As, as compared to literally dozens with an A and a B, from a total of 289 interpreters throughout the country. Although I haven’t actually checked the statistics on language combinations for all world regions (maybe they’re out there somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find them), I would think that this trend is repeated elsewhere.

My own region, Spain, might be a bit of an exception, since a sizable minority of interpreters here have two mother tongues: Spanish plus a regional language such as Catalan. Of a total of 100 AIIC interpreters in Spain, a full 24 have two A languages – and one colleague even has three!

B is for Bilingual

Now that we’ve dealt with the definition of an A language, it’s time to look at the B. This is probably the slipperiest of the three language categories. What, indeed, is a B language in practice? And what is the difference between a B and an A in a bilingual interpreter?

For those interpreters who work into their B from all their languages and in all modes (simultaneous and consecutive), the question is little more than academic, since nothing will distinguish their B from their A on a practical level. But most interpreters with a B are not like that – almost all interpreters place some restriction on how they work with their active language that is not their mother tongue. Either they will only work into it in consecutive mode but not in simultaneous, or they will choose to work only from their mother tongue into their B and not from their other languages (this is probably the most common form of B out there).

In case this is all starting to get a bit head-spinning, let’s use an example to show how the difference between A and B works. An interpreter with Spanish A, English B and Italian C will work from Italian and English into Spanish, and from Spanish back into English, but NOT from Italian into English (i.e. from a language that is not their mother tongue into their B).

This distinction may sound a bit ridiculous to a layman, who might tend to think that if you speak a number of languages well, you should be able to work equally well between them all and in all directions, but I can assure readers that interpreting into a language that is not your mother tongue is a good sight more difficult than doing it into your native language, which is why this distinction between A and B exists in the first place.

Okay, so what about the C?

At this point it would be logical to go on and define the interpreter’s C language. However, I think I’ve got readers sufficiently confused for one week. Next week, we will look at the last of the letters on our list. And at that point hopefully readers will be able to say they’ve learned their ABCs.

Related Posts

C is for … – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part II)

“Which languages should I learn?” – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part III)

43 thoughts on “Learning your ABCs – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part I)

  1. ¡Esta entrada es maravillosa, Michelle! Yo soy de las bilingües en catalán-castellano y estoy completamente de acuerdo contigo en que el bilingüismo perfecto no existe y que puede causar muchas deventajas.
    ¡Me ha encantado que hayas elegido mi combinación para poner uno de tus ejemplos! :-O

    Un abrazo,

    • Hi Judith,

      Thanks for your comments. Rereading the post, I saw that my reference to bilingual interpreters might seem a bit misleading. It might make people think I’m referring to interpreters who speak two languages only, when what I meant to talk about were interpreters with two mother tongues – which doesn’t preclude them speaking loads of other languages on top of that! 🙂

      I think you’re an example of that: two As (Catalan, Spanish) plus two Cs (English, Italian). Right?

      Anyway, the vast majority of the interpreters I looked at in Germany and Spain, in addition to having either two As or an A plus a B, obviously also had various other languages in their combinations – two or three or more Cs, some double Bs …

      Just to clarify (or maybe not!). 😉


  2. I’m amazed how many laymen think I work into all my languages out of French (my A) instead of – of course – the other way round. How on earth would that work: I would be sitting in the booth and what would I do then if and when someone starts speaking French? I would blabber in English, Spanish and German SIMULTANEOUSLY! Well, it’s called simultaneous interpreting, isn’t it? And during that time, my colleagues in, say, the English booth would… well… beats me…

    As for the young formerly alingual colleague you mention, he is quite lucky indeed to work as a free lance for the UN in Geneva, as the UN hardly recruits free lancers at all. Or maybe late on Thursday night for Friday… Geneva-based free lance interpreters work mainly for all the other international organisations.

    • Yeah, I get that too. Very puzzling indeed. Another interesting thing I sometimes hear, which also shows an unawareness of how interpreting works, is when delegates announce that they will switch to English “to give the interpreters a rest”. Of course, all that means is that all the booths have to work except the English one.

      I wonder, does what you say about freelancers in Geneva also apply to the English booth? Anyway, this fellow is there and working – or so he assures me ;).

      Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Thanks for a great post as usual. The mix up of which languages you work in and out of is perhaps understandable for laypeople but still frustrating. I came across a podcast with officials from the Hungarian EU-presidency discussing with bloggers about interpreting and languages in the EU, the clip is here: http://www.goear.com/listen/e871ae8/4th-bloggers-meeting-with-the-hu-presidency-part-2-bloggers-officials
    and my blogpost about it is here: http://interpreter.blogs.se/2011/04/14/bloggers-discuss-interpreting-with-the-hungarian-eu-presidency-11002882/
    Now, in this podcast the official actually says that interpreters are working into their C-language…

    I would also like to challenge one of your expressions. It is one I have come to dislike when working with students and entrance exams and also when reading up on bilingualism and interpreting studies. The term is “Alingual” or “no mother tongue”. I know it’s interpreting jargon, and I agree that far from all bi- or multilingual people can interpret into one or any of their languages without interference from the other languages. But it does NOT mean they don’t have a mother tongue, everybody does. It does just mean that they have not learned to control their “bilingual switch”. Some never learn to do that and they will never become interpeters, others, like your guy learn to do it and become wonderful interpreters.

    Sorry to contradict you, just want to feed the debate 😉

    • Thanks for the interesting contribution, Tolken. Let me just try to clarify my views on this.

      For me, an “alingual” is someone who does not have full, fluent command of any language. I really do think this happens, although it is probably quite rare. Of the 180-some students I’ve worked with over the past 10 years, I think the student I spoke of in the post was the only example of it I’ve come across. I think alingualism is due to an upbringing where the language input is so mixed (parents speak one language, community speaks another, schooling in a third, maybe university studies in a fourth…) that the person doesn’t get a full, solid grounding in any one language. For me, the key in recognising this “syndrome” is the alingual’s inability to hear the difference between false friends. It’s not just a matter of accidentally using “important” to translate “importante (ES)”, “motorist” for “motorista (ES)”, or “irritated” for “irritiert (DE)”. Sit down to discuss the shades of meaning of these words with an alingual and they simply will not know where you are coming from.

      Another case might be one of interference between “two mother tongues” like Spanish and Catalan, where one is the mother tongue and the other is spoken almost at that level, but where there’s a lot of confusion because of the similarity between the two. This is a lot more common – at least, I come across it a lot in students. Many sort it out quite quickly, although some still suffer with interference from the Catalan in their Spanish after months of trying to get rid of it.

      A third case is what you refer to, i.e. the problem loads of students have with “code-switching”.This is probably the most common problem, and does not need to involved two As or an A and a B at all – I find it tends to happen to me between my A and my Cs late on a Friday afternoon ;). Here, the student may have only one mother tongue or A (which he speaks perfectly), but still finds that the wrong language comes out when he opens his mouth. Usually this happens at the beginning of the course, because students aren’t used to working with so many languages in such close proximity. After all, in real life, we tend to spend most of our time in one linguistic environment or another, not switching back and forth between several languages all day. Most students sort it out quite quickly, although not being able to learn this type of code-switching may be a sign that you aren’t meant to be an interpreter.

      Anyway, those are the thoughts that came to mind when I read your comments. With your academic background, you might well have evidence to prove my “gut feeling” wrong.

      To feed the debate further, here’s what Roger Chriss has to say in his book “Translation as a profession”. He talks about bilinguals and alinguals in this excerpt: http://bit.ly/ips1FR.

  4. To answer your question, Michelle, about UNOG, they are in dire need of anything that moves with passive Russian (how can anyone move with a passive language… duh). And your student has a competitive edge being paid the beginners rate. He’s in for a big disappointment when he reaches the full rate. Unless he has Russian, that is. English booth with Russian is absolute tops! The fact is that most free lancers who work regularly about everywhere else never set foot in the Palais des Nations. In 2010, I worked one (1) day for them and I understood it was just to enable me to have the badge and stay on their lists. Now, for the first time in 20 years, they refused to renew my badge, because I haven’t worked there in the past 365 days. They will probably also remove me from their lists. Well, too bad for them, really… And then, they recruit last minute and find whoever is still available. They’re also very fond of their retirees who probably get priority given they know the place inside out. But don’t sue me for libel, please. All I can tell is that around me, hardly anyone has the UN badge anymore.

    Sorry, I’m a bit hors sujet… Just answering your question 😉

  5. Great post and thanks for the lovely mention. I keep on working on my B and C, I have a D in the works but I think as an interpreter you never finished learning, there is always something you can improve and languages are not static, they keep evolving and that is a challenge but also one of the reason why I love languages and this job

      • The more languages, the better! 😉

        Just to avoid any confusion amongst readers, an interpreter with five languages doesn’t automatically label them A-B-C-D-E. The languages will be classified according to the interpreter’s proficiency in each. They might have one A and four Cs (passive languages), for instance, or an A, a B and three Cs, and so on. The “D” is not really an official classification, just a “slang” that interpreters use to refer to languages they have up their sleeve but which they can’t work from (yet).

        Anyway, I’ll be looking at Cs (and Ds) in the next post, so if any readers are confused, hopefully that will clear it up.

  6. Thank you for this post and the blog in general…I’ve enjoyed reading everything you’ve posted so far (and expect to continue enjoying posts to come!).

    Something I thought about when I saw “alingual”, and the fact that the “B” is often difficult to define, etc. is that perhaps we interpreters contribute to “outsiders”‘ confusion by conflating what is essentially a skill set with linguistic and even personal identity. Me explico.

    We tend to say that an interpreter’s “mother tongue” is their “A” language, and conversely that an interpreting student, for example, has no mother tongue if they have trouble producing an A-level interpretation in the booth. However, being able to express yourself as an educated native speaker is not synonymous with having an “A”–it’s only a pre-requisite for developing the “A”-language skill set. I know good Spanish As who have had rude awakenings when they’ve had to interpret towards Catalan for the first time, even when Catalan was their “stronger” mother tongue, as they spoke it both at home and in school. Was that because they didn’t “really” master Catalan? Of course not. It’s simply because they hadn’t developed the skill set of an “A”-language interpreter in that language yet. So a mother tongue can be a C-language at best, whereas one acquired through schooling can be a very good “A”.

    Perhaps instead of saying an “A” language is an interpreter’s mother tongue and a “B” language is his or her “perfect, but foreign” active language (which is a contradiction), we should say that A and B languages are languages towards which an interpreter is proficient in working professionally, with the former being more reliable and versatile because it is always spoken to an educated, mother-tongue standard. The B, on the other hand, is “close enough” to facilitate communication. To me, that’s the only intellectually honest explanation why some interpreters have a B acquired through schooling and foreign residence (i.e. yours truly) and others have their B as a home and schooling language (i.e. natural, life-long bilinguals). It’s also the only intellectually honest explanation for why people with “B”s tend to use them in only certain situations.

    I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on that, and again, I love the blog.

    • Thanks for the insights, Jonathan. I think you make some very good points, and I don’t think there’s anything in your comment that I would disagree with. In fact, it really just makes it clear that this issue is worth trying to thrash out, since there are such divergent views on it.

      The whole “A vs. B” debate is sometimes a bit foreign to someone like me, who has only one mother tongue (A) and a bunch of Cs, with no B in sight ;). Speaking with colleagues with double As or Bs, I find they all have a different relationship with their various active languages. It is not something that is easy to pin down (which is why I said that Bs are slippery). Your comments add another perspective to the question, which is more or less in line with what I heard someone say once: that the “real” mother tongue for an interpreter (i.e. the one they will be most likely to be able to interpret into) is not what they spoke with their parents in the kitchen as a kid, but the language they did their post-secondary studies in. Does that ring true to you?

      Anyway, at the end of the day, what really counts is what “A” and “B” mean to the outside world. The distinction really is drawn for clients, more than anythng, so that they know what to expect from the interpreter they are hiring. An interpreter who claims an A in a language should provide native-sounding, non-accented, well-expressed interpretation into that language from all the other languages she speaks. An interpreter who claims a B should provide competent interpretation into that language from at least their mother tongue and possibly one or more other languages. Their interpretation might carry a slight accent, but this should not hamper understanding, and although the range of expression might be slightly more limited than for an A, at no time should the expressions used be distracting or confusing for the listener.

      I hope that helps… Thanks again for your comments!

    • Hi, Luke, thanks for joining us! I hope you find useful information here. There is a link on my blogroll to Critical Link International, which you may find interesting. At one point there will be a post written on community interpreting as well, since long ago I seriously considered doing some research in the field (I find it fascinating!), but probably not for a while.

      Thanks again!

  7. I’m not a fan of the term “alingual”. I think it’s pretty offensive, actually. A person may not be articulate enough in one, or more, mother tongues to become an interpreter. To suggest they are “alingual” is to undermine them. Language being an integral part of our identities, for a teacher to suggest to a student that they “don’t have a mother tongue” is borderline criminal.

    An example: a student with an ACC combination may be failing a course because his mother tongue is not rich or flexible enough. But this student will not be described as alingual, only as having a weak mother tongue.
    However, the student purporting to have a double A combination, where neither is up to scratch, will be called alingual.
    (It’s almost as though it were a reaction to their mistakenly believing their bilingualism means they will be able to interpret bi-actively. And yes, I do think they are bilingual. If you speak two languages badly, you’re still bilingual. You’re just not good enough to be an interpreter.)

    So teachers, please dump this awful expression in favour of a clear and unoffensive description of the problem: none of your active languages are rich and flexible enough to work as a conference interpreter.

    • Hi, Andy. Thanks for the comments. In my reply to Tolken, I explained what I understand the term “alingual” to mean. I certainly don’t mean to use it in a pejorative way. I do think the term exists for a reason, although that reason cannot be to offer interpreting teachers an easy way out when faced with students facing problems in their active language. Is its use really that widespread amongst interpreting trainers? You’d be best placed to judge. I’ve only ever heard it used in a couple of isolated occasions. And when I met my one so-called “alingual” student, I just used it as a way to explain to myself what I was working with. I don’t recall ever “accusing” this student of being “alingual”.

      Although I don’t know, I’m assuming the term comes from another field altogether, maybe sociolinguistics, where it exists for a reason, and that interpreter trainers have appropriated it for their use. I’ll look into it …

      • I suppose the term exists because it fills a convenient gap in interpreter training: the lack of an A language. But it’s a distortion of what “alingual” means, namely “no language”. We, interpreters and authors of popular blogs, of all people, should be aware of using words correctly;)
        As such I agree with Tolken when he says, “But it does NOT mean they don’t have a mother tongue, everybody does.”

        I’m sure that you (and lots of other teachers) don’t mean to use it in a pejorative way, but what if it is pejorative all the same?
        This why we have political correctness. Please compare: “I call him “sambo” but I don’t mean it in an offensive way!
        Very offensive.

        The word is used a lot in France, interestingly not as often face-to-face with students as between teachers. A tacit recognition that it could be offensive?

        So, like I say, I’m for removing the word from use, teachers’ short-hand or otherwise. It’s a bit wrong and a bit offensive. And that’s a bit much for me;)

  8. How do you tell an aspiring dancer that she/he isn’t good enough to join your company? How do you tell a singer he/she is tone-deaf and that you don’t want him/her to join your choir? How do you tell a youngster that he doesn’t run fast enough to become a footballer?

    You might keep the word “alingual” for the teachers caucus only, but if your student /candidate cannot produce sth correct in any language, be it called A, B or Z, you’d better tell him/her so that he or she might stop wasting any more time.

    How about linguistically challenged :-o) ?

    • @Andy and @Tiina, I think this debate is interesting and worth pursuing, and to be honest, I probably (unintentionally) jumped the gun a bit in using the term the way I did in my post. But instead of fully rewriting it, I’ve just decided to add a note to any new readers who might come across this post recommending that they read the comments where these different views on alingualism are expressed. That will hopefully provide them with a bigger picture than the one I gave in the original post.

      Once again, my readers have outdone me! Not to mention taught me a lesson. Well, it just goes to show you never stop learning ;).

  9. Hello,

    I know it is slightly off-topic, but I just wanted to qualify some of Tiina’s comments about UNOG, based on my own experience and that of other freelance and staff colleagues, because UNOG is a major employer for new interpreters so these points are very important for them:

    1/Moving to category 1 does not make you lose any ‘competitive edge’. As a UNOG staff interpreter once told me, it would not make any sense to train a beginner and build up their experience over one or two years, just to get rid of them right when they become really reliable and can be recruited for all meetings held at UNOG (I have yet to hear of a cat 2 ‘Western’ interpreter in a human rights council meeting or a universal periodic review – of course, things may be different in the Chinese or Arabic booths). Besides, I know several cat. 1 colleagues who regularly work at UNOG.

    2/As Tiina rightly pointed out, it is all a matter of availability. UNOG recruit quite late because of the way their meetings are organised and interpretation needs are confirmed at the last minute, when most experienced interpreters already have other commitments. As a result, they often recruit beginners, ie. category 2 interpreters, because they are the only ones left without any work at that point. Which explains the illusion that once you’ve become cat. 1., they don’t hire you anymore. It’s just that when you are cat 1, you’re not available anymore. The cat 1 interpreters who regularly work at UNOG are those who do NOT work for all other agencies, but only one or two of them on top of UNOG.

  10. Pingback: The Aptitude Test – Overcoming the First Hurdle « The Interpreter Diaries

  11. Pingback: C is for … – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part II) « The Interpreter Diaries

  12. Pingback: “Which languages should I learn?” – The Interpreter’s Languages (Part III) « The Interpreter Diaries

  13. I am glad to see another interpreting blog! When I started blogging about interpreting five years ago, I searched the Internet for ASL interpreter blogs and could hardly find any. Since that time, I’ve come to realize that interpreters of all languages do basically the same thing, so I’m glad you started yours. I was referred to your blog by Amanda Smith, a professor in my Master of Arts in Interpreting Studies program at Western Oregon University.

    • Hi Daniel, and thanks very much for your comment and your post. I really enjoyed reading it (on my 3″ BlackBerry screen in the tram yesterday 😉 ). I find sign language interpreting a very interesting subject – and I know far too little about it, despite the similarities is has with the sort of interpreting I do.

      There is some talk about including sign language interpreters in AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (see http://www.facebook.com/aiic.interpreters/posts/191916700880556). And InterpretAmerica already seeks synergies between the various groups of interpreting professionals (http://interpretamerica.net/). But more could be done …

  14. Pingback: Are most ASL interpreters working in their C language? « Daniel Greene’s Blog–o–rama

  15. Pingback: Top 10 Lessons Learned in Rome (6-10) « The Interpreter Diaries

  16. Pingback: Happy Birthday to my Blog! « The Interpreter Diaries

  17. Pingback: European Multilingual Blogging Day 2012 | The Interpreter Diaries

  18. Pingback: What Makes a Great Interpreter Part 1 | Voiance Language Services

  19. Pingback: What Makes a Great Interpreter (Part 1) - CyraCom | Translation Services

  20. I enjoyed your posting and your website is much appreciated. My native language is English with a second language of Spanish. I consider myself bilingual with experience and a Bachelor’s degree. The C Language you spoke about interests me greatly. Do you recommend French or German for a third language? My intent is to work with languages as an interpreter/translator for a living. Any input is valuable.

    • I’m glad you find the information on my blog helpful :). I can’t really say what language you should learn next, since it depends very much on your personal preferences. If you aren’t sure whether to go for French or German, why not start with both and see how it goes? You may you find gravitate more to one than to the other.

      Both languages are “useful”, professionally speaking; if you want to work in Europe, it would be a big plus to have both German and French in your combination. Also, if you can get one of your C languages to a B level, that would increase your marketability as well. It’s not that easy, and many interpreters never quite manage it, but if you have the time and the determination, an A-B-C-C combination is not bad as a long-term goal.

      Hope this helps!

  21. Hello !

    I happened to find your blog while trying to understand the difference between an active and a passive language. It really helped me a lot. I would like to ask you about the alingual person you mentioned. I grew up in a bilingual environment. We speak both Arabic and French in my home country. I learned English soon after starting school and I’m currently in my last year of Bachelor’s degree of English linguistics. I think that I might have the same problem your student had. It’s a really tricky situation because we tend to communicate in an Arabic Dialect and the classical Arabic, the one used by politics and that you usually study at school, well it’s usually more of a written language. Besides, I’ve been living in France for seven years now speaking French in everyday life and I picked up a fourth language, Korean. I’ve discussed this with some of my translation teachers and they told me to read.

    I’m a little bit confused right now. When I want to speak in classical Arabic, my brain thinks in dialect. It’s easier for me to translate from French to English then the other way around even though I learned French before and it is my mother tongue. Korean is okay. I only have some trouble to understand some regional dialects when I travel to South Korea :)!

    Could you tell me how your student managed to develop the language he chose as an A?

    I would like to study for two more years so that I can develop all the languages I know before I do apply for a Conference Interpreting program.

    I would really appreciate your insight.
    Hope I’m not whining too much!

    • Welcome to the blog! I am glad you find the information here useful. I find it intriguing that your translation teachers recommended that you read as much as possible to improve your languages, since we interpreting trainers tend to recommend that you speak as much as possible – why the difference, I wonder? 😉 It might also be a good idea to immerse yourself in an environment where the language you want to activate is spoken (although this may not be possible for everyone, since you can’t always move to a new country at the drop of a hat).

      For more information about why somepeople have a hard time identifying their As and Bs, and what can be done to improve them, why not check out these posts on a colleague’s blog?

      Which is my A language?
      When working into your mother tongue isn’t enough

      Hope this helps!

  22. Pingback: One year on - who in Europe has the right to interpretation? | FairTrials.org

  23. Hello Michelle!

    I am a young translator getting ready for a master degree in conference interpreting. I’ve noticed recently that interpreters mostly have either a multitude of C languages or just one B with one-two Cs. Is it possible to have a combination of an A and two Bs, given that one’s monolingual, but the two foreign languages are running really strong (in my case it’s Russian A, English and German)?

    The point is, I wanna get my degree in Germany, and I’m slightly put off by the fact that no matter how strong my English is, I am to have it merely as my C language (it’s only German that gets all the Blues). I believe it’s made in order not to make all the hard training even more strenuous, but does it mean that English must remain the Chocolate Cookie of my future professional life forever?

    Btw, thank you so much for this blog! You will not believe just how much I’ve learned and figured out for myself thanks to it!

    • Hi Aimee, and thanks for reading me! A combination of A + 2 Bs is certainly possible, but it’s true that you may have a hard time finding a school where they will offer you that combination. You may have to train in a reduced combination (e.g. A + B + C) and then upgrade as necessary after you graduate.

Leave a Reply to The Interpreter Diaries Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.