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This year I started working full time as a community interpreter with EN A/ES B in Washington state. I eventually have my sights set on the MACI at MIIS and a career in conference and/or court interpretation. Besides my current A/B combination, I have both DE and FR in my arsenal and my question is, between DE and FR, which would provide the most advantages in the US conference interpretation market?

Relevant information regarding my biography/situation:

  • I studied languages at university in the UK, with two semesters abroad at T&I departments of Spanish and Austrian universities, with an EN A/ES B/DE C in Spain and EN A/DE B/ES C in Austria.
  • I studied French and spent a semester in Romandy, but have never interpreted with French nor have I significantly developed my French-language skills.
  • I am a US citizen and wish to live/pursue an MA/work in the US. I'm well aware of the credentials/costs/structure/style of all conference interpretation programs across the US, Canada, UK, and Europe.
  • All that to say, my language skills can be classified as follows according to CEFR: English, mother tongue; Spanish C2; German C1; French B1; Hebrew A2. My German was easily C2 when I left university, so getting it back up to C language level would be much less effort than working on my French.

I can see the advantage of having a French C and eventually bringing it up to a French B to use in court interpretation. I guess that my question is mostly about the short-term right now, i.e., which C should I choose for MACI at MIIS? In the long-run, I can add whichever language is left over, but which ABC combination would set me up best to hit the ground running after completing a masters?

Any thoughts or comments? I'd appreciate any perspective/advice/knowledge you might have to share. Thank you!

EDIT: Answers welcome in EN, ES, DE, FR.

asked 30 Oct '16, 21:25

abelisle's gravatar image


edited 31 Oct '16, 17:58

Hi abelisle, and well done on getting started in your career, and in giving some serious thought to your future markets. Not everyone does!

From what I can understand, you want to get the MACI degree at MIIS and have a career in conference or court interpreting. If your goal is to become a court interpreter, do you really need the conference degree? I only ask because I seem to recall that MIIS had a court interpreting short course over a summer, or something like that, taught by Holly Mikkelson, a great authority on the subject.

If you do get the CI degree, is your goal to remain in Washington, or to move to where the work is? Would moving include the East coast? That would open up more horizons for you - and give you more to think about - than staying in Washington.

So, to give some specific answers for each of those possibilities:

  • if you stick with court interpretation, you have to be biactive. So adding a C is worthless unless you are planning on making it into a B. If so, you will have to really focus, possibly to the detriment of your already active non-native language. You should also plan on spending some more time in a country that speaks your chosen third language. In Washington, I presume that French would be the most lucrative of your two possible languages.

However, do keep in mind that making a B language is a lot more difficult than it sounds (see here), and you will be working in an area where nuances will determine whether or not your client goes to jail. So your existing B needs to be very high quality before you even attempt to add a second B.

  • If you go for a CI degree, then you will have training in a wider range of skills, some not appropriate for court interpreting, so make sure you really learn the difference in techniques. As you are not planning on moving to Europe, and the German market in the US is smaller than the French market, I would again go for French. On the East coast, this would open up possibilities in the UN, as well as a few possibilities in DC, to go along with your biactive En<>Es. I am not aware of any organizations using En, Es and De in the US.

On the private market anywhere in the US, however, there is less of a market for 3-language meetings, and as Gaspar said, most of the interpreting market in the US is biactive. It is a rare interpreter in the US who has a third language, so when you are needed, you will be really needed, but it will be much less than for two-language meetings. As an example, when I graduated from MIIS with an MACI in En -A, Ru-B, Fr-C, I never once worked with my C in the 14 years I was in the US. As a second example, any time I worked for large, multi-language meetings, all our booths were biactive with English as the common language - so I worked in the Russian-English booth, and if there was French spoken, it was done into English by the French-English booth, and I took their English and interpreted into Russian.

You could also try to contact some organizing interpreters for conferences in the US, or some AIIC members who live in the US, to see what the market is like.

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answered 31 Oct '16, 06:16

JuliaP's gravatar image


Hi Julia, many thanks for your thorough response! I've had my toes in the interpreting world since I started my bachelors 7 years ago, but I've only just this year started to work as a certified interpreter full-time.

Relevant information that you brought up that I should have mentioned in my initial post : I am willing and ready to move elsewhere in the US to pursue interpreting as a sustainable career (DC and Chicago are attractive to me)! I'd like to opt for the MACI (vs. simply a court interpreting diploma or similar) in order to have as comprehensive free-lance skill sets as possible. Both conference and court interpreting appeal.

I know a third language is useless in court if it's not at B level. And I'm well aware of the blood, sweat, tears, time, and money I've put into Spanish to achieve the level I currently have (still not conference-level B, but on its way; I do of course work bi-actively now in community/medical contexts)!

So you say that FR C is definitely more marketable in the North American CI market, but might I extrapolate from your personal example that no matter what C language I choose, I probably won't end up using it? This would indeed be a clincher, because if there's quite a low chance of using a C that I would train in during a MACI, I'd just as soon forego the C to really focus on the AB combination.

It's very interesting to me that you didn't use your C in 14 years. Do you regret have trained with it at MIIS? What are your thoughts on this?

(31 Oct '16, 15:58) abelisle

Hello again,

I don't regret at all having trained with it, as I spoke French as fluently as Russian, and had been studying it longer, so it gave me a different perspective on the skillset and access to different teachers. I had also thought that having the UN as a client would be an option - and I was right, though it didn't happen until I moved to Europe as in the US I was hugely busy with my En<>Ru combination right from the start.

That being said, if your Spanish is not yet up to a conference B quality, I would definitely go for the AB combination and leave any distractions aside. Not having done that at MIIS, I didn't know it was an option. And if you stay in the US, you won't really need a Fr C unless you move to DC or NY, and maybe not even then, as the institutional market is much smaller than the private/government market, and an English booth with French and Spanish is pretty common in the UN system.

(02 Nov '16, 04:09) JuliaP

Je ne sais pas si le marché privé nord-américain fonctionne vraiment avec des langues C. J'ai cru comprendre que l'essentiel se faisait en biactif, donc A<>B. Le seul grand client qui me vienne à l'esprit et qui utilise des langues C, c'est les Nations Unies. Dans ce cas, il faudrait miser sur le français.

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answered 31 Oct '16, 05:24

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

If I'm understanding Julia correctly, what you say seems to be the case. My initial train of thought had been that if MIIS lets me do an ABC combination, that I might as well, in order to make myself as versatile as possible. But what I'm hearing know is that it might not be worth it to even study with a C, i.e., better to put the time/effort/money into a stronger AB combo. Thank you for your input, Gáspár.

(31 Oct '16, 17:48) abelisle
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question asked: 30 Oct '16, 21:25

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