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I did some searches, but forgive me if a question like this has been asked before. I have recently started thinking about eventually going to school for conference interpretation for Japanese<>English. In terms of employment prospects, I suspect that adding a third language might be beneficial, and I am curious as to whether any of the languages I have previously studied would nicely complement my profile. (Note that none of them are currently at the level of mastery necessary to become an interpreter - I also wonder whether it would be beneficial to spend the time to raise a third language to the level required.)

Korean is my strongest foreign language besides Japanese. Unfortunately, of all the languages I've studied it is my least favorite, and I did not enjoy living in South Korea. I had all but abandoned the language, but if EN/JA/KO is a particularly worthwhile combo, I would be willing to consider resuming my studies.

Chinese is my weakest foreign language, but probably the language I would be most interested in studying further. If I understand correctly, Chinese has the added benefit of potentially allowing me to someday work as a UN interpreter.

Finally, I used to speak French at a relatively high level (I was directly enrolled in a French university during my semester abroad). Unfortunately, it's been a few years since then, and my French is quite rusty now. Due to its similarity to English, of the three languages, I suspect French would be the easiest to get to the level of fluency needed. I've noticed that most interpretation opportunities seem to exist for European languages; I'm not sure whether "diversifying" by adding a European language would be advantageous, or if I should focus entirely on Asian languages.

Please let me know what you think. Thanks in advance for your help!

asked 16 Jun '16, 13:46

LongS's gravatar image


Hi LongS, you don't say where you live, where you are planning on going to interpreting school, and where you want to live later, all of which would play a role in your decision-making.

First things first, passive Chinese won't get you work in the UN. Everyone in the Chinese booth must be able to work biactively, between Chinese and either EN or FR. And I have never seen any Chinese B interpreters in a UN booth.

I know several JA A interpreters, all with EN B and living in Europe. They either have no third language, or they have FR as a C.

You should look into the market where you want to live. For example, in the US or the UK, a passive language will almost never be used, no matter what the language combination. In Japan, who knows?

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answered 22 Jun '16, 17:28

JuliaP's gravatar image


Thank you for your reply, JuliaP!

First, I should have clarified in my original post, whichever language I add, I am planning to add as a second B. (I do know that it will take several years to reach this level, but I am willing to put in the work. If I go to interpreting school, that would happen maybe five to ten years down the line.)

To add to the information missing from my first post: I am from the United States and currently living in Japan. With regards to where I would like to go to school and live, I am flexible and would be willing to go wherever school/work takes me. However, I will note that Japan is not where I would like to settle down and raise a family.

And thank you for the insight about Chinese B interpreters.

(24 Jun '16, 15:46) LongS

Hello again,

I am making this a separate answer, as it will be too long for the comment area, and deals with your new information.

Wow. Having 3 active languages is a very ambitious goal. I don't know if you realize how ambitious. First of all, your A language has to be rich and flexible enough to be a good working language. Then, you have to make sure that your B language is almost that fluent - see here for information on what a B language is, how it should work, and how to improve it. And then, after succeeding in your ambition, you have to keep up both your A and your B languages, so that if you are called in to work on anything at all, your languages will be ready. To add another active language into the mix - even if not working B<>B - is hugely daunting.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way (though extremely important to take into account), let's look at your combinations. I can't discuss Korean or Chinese, so will stick to French, and the countries I have the most experience with.

JA<>EN is a good combination in Japan, the US (especially the West coast), and the UK, though I do know a JA<>EN interpreter who lives in France. From what I have seen and heard over the years, JA interpreters get good rates, good conditions, and have a decent amount of work. If you are planning on living in any of these places, then you are pretty much set with just the two languages. In any case, the learning curve will be steep, and you may want to concentrate on the one market in the beginning, so that you are proficient in one language combination and can build up a client list.

FR<>EN is a very good combination, as well. It is useful in many places in the world, not only in France or the US or the UK, though France or any other French speaking country will provide you with the most work. Of all the biactive combinations, this is the one with the most prospects, especially because the French do care about their language and its use - though this means that your B would have to be close to a native speaker's level. There will be less high-level conference work, however, on the US West coast than on the East coast, for example.

Now, if you were to combine the two, you will need to add French to a B level, so you will have to live for a certain amount of time in France, while keeping up your Japanese, and finding work in JA<>EN. This would also be true for French as a C, but as it won't be an active language, you won't have to concentrate as hard on speaking it properly.

I hope you understand why I started with the disclaimer - it sounds like a huge task you are setting yourself. I think the more manageable task is first, to determine if you want to live in the US or Europe. If in the former, there is very little need to have a C language, especially as your best markets for each of the two language combinations are on opposite coasts. If in Europe, having FR as a C language would not be a waste; having it one day as a B may give you more work, but in very different markets.

You could also consider bringing your French up to a B, working EN<>FR, with a very good JA C, though you would likely use your C only very rarely.

So it looks like you need to do some market research, to figure out what kind of interpreting you are most interested in, where that type of interpreting is done the most using your existing and future language combinations, and see if any of that matches with places you would like to live.

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answered 25 Jun '16, 19:56

JuliaP's gravatar image


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question asked: 16 Jun '16, 13:46

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