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I'm interested in a career in conference interpreting, and I'm trying to gather information on where to apply for a MA. Besides the better-known schools (ESIT and ISIT in Paris, ETI Geneva, etc.), what other well-regarded interpreting programs are out there, especially for a UN-type language combination like the one I hope to have (English/Chinese/French/Russian)? Practicing interpreters, what schools do you and your successful colleagues hail from, hear about, and/or recommend?


asked 21 Dec '12, 03:43

permfmt's gravatar image


The AIIC Interpreting Schools Finder allows you to search by region and language combination for an interpreting school. It also shows you how each school fares in relation to AIIC's Best Practice recommendations for interpreting schools.

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answered 21 Dec '12, 04:47

Andy's gravatar image


Thanks! I've checked out that list before and found it rather daunting, due to the sheer number of programs listed. I was hoping to get a few specific recommendations, good/bad experiences, etc.

(21 Dec '12, 05:24) permfmt

It's a long list, but if you look through it there are very few schools that teach all of those languages (RU ZH FR) into English. Most teach one or other or two only. Be aware also that if you are EN RU or FR mother tongue you won't be recruited to interpreter ZH into any of those languages. I believe that ZH and AR are only translated by mother tongue interpreters INTO foreign languages, and never the other way round (for example never by an English interpreter into EN). As such your combination/study plans may need revising. But please check with someone who knows the UN better than me.

(21 Dec '12, 05:53) Andy

That is true, I'll have to peruse the list in greater depth to see which ones offer all of my languages. I know ETI Geneva, for example, doesn't have Chinese, unfortunately. I am an English A, although I was raised bilingual in a Chinese family and thus hope to eventually attain at least a B in Chinese. I have heard, as you mentioned, that ZH interpreters at the UN usually handle both directions and other booths relay from them, so there may not be much demand there for an English A, Chinese B. But I've also heard there's some potential on the private market for such a combination. Thanks for your advice!

(21 Dec '12, 12:06) permfmt

Besides the 3 schools that you mention and which are indeed considered as the best ones in the profession, I believe the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in California, also offers serious training from and into Chinese.

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answered 21 Dec '12, 10:07

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Hello permfmt,

I would like to qualify Andy's answer: While he is right regarding the fact that UN institutions practically hire ZH A's with a retour into EN or FR only and you'll never be recruited to interpret from EN into ZH being a native English speaker and although most AIIC colleagues with Chinese are native speakers of this language, I would dare to say that this only applys to the UN market. In my opion, of course subjective and personal, I think that you'll have a wide range of working options with biactive English and Chinese ON THE PRIVATE MARKET as I understand that the market for this language combination EN>ZH>EN is starting to gather momentum worldwide in the wake of China's economic development and one could guess that this trend will further increase.

My advice to you: if you want Chinese in your language combination being an English A, you'll need to have your Chinese at B level in order to have fair and wide range of working opportunities on the private market. So concentrate on that, even more so if you were raised bilingually. Danielle's tip, Monterrey, is a very good one. There are other schools in UK. It depends where you live or if you feel like moving to another country. If you feel confident about your mother tongue and provided that you grew up and went to school and University in an English speaking country and you feel that you must work on your Chinese in order to have a Chinese B, then I would seriously consider applying to a Conference Interpreting program in China.

As for the rest of your language combination: With Russian and French you will be a darling for the English booth within the UN system, provided you pass the exams while you will not be required to work from ZH into EN as Andy said, since that's taken care of by the ZH booth. RU and FR may be useful at the Council of Europe too. Russian and Chinese will however be of very limited use for the EU institutions. Passive Russian and Chinese on the international private market won't take you too far. Interpreters with Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese need to work biactively into EN or FR or ,at the very least, into the language of the national market of the country you live in.

My 2 cents - I hope this little explanation helps you find a suitable program for your needs. Conrado

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answered 30 Dec '12, 13:26

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edited 30 Dec '12, 13:28

Thanks, Conrado! Very useful advice. I have indeed heard that there is little demand on the private market for anything less than a B in Chinese, while on the other hand the UN doesn't need to hire ZH B interpreters. As I see it, my possibilities now would be EN A/ZH B for the private market, or EN A/FR C/RU C for the UN or other international institutions. For now I'm trying to keep both paths open. I've considered applying to the CI program at Shanghai International Studies University, which I believe is the only AIIC-affiliated program in China. However, I'm a bit worried that they don't offer Russian (at least, that's what I gathered from their website), and with only EN/ZH/FR I'm afraid I'll never be very attractive to international institutions.

Just to confirm, you are saying that passive Russian is good for the English booth at the UN, but not so much for the private market, correct?

Thanks for all your help :)

(31 Dec '12, 08:56) permfmt

This is not good news for my hopeful ZH C.

(31 Dec '12, 16:40) charlielee

Charlielee, as I understand it, you can apply to schools with a ZH C and later upgrade your C to a B. (That's the advice I got from the director of ESIT.)

(01 Jan '13, 07:17) permfmt

@permfmt: Keeping both paths open is certainly very reasonable. If you study at a school that doesn't offer RU > EN you still can keep honing this language, even visit as a guest student and for some time (weeks, a month) an CI program offering RU>EN in order to practice and add RU at a later stage in your career after graduation. The same would go -in theory- for ZH. Don't get to fixed or crazy about an specific language combination that caters to the needs of an international institution (UN, EU) because the private market is als very important and offers much more work that the institutions. My advice would be to study and cultivate languages that you love and you feel confident working with.

(01 Jan '13, 14:12) Conrado

@Chalielee: This is my subjective view of the market, maybe some other colleagues know better than me. If you love Chinese and would like to study ZH as a C language just go for it. Just bear in mind that passive Chinese would be of limited use for recruiters. I could imagine that if you were living in ZH or Taiwan passive ZH into EN could be more interesting but I am just guessing here. Having a not sought-after C language means little real life practice in conferences and after some time you feel that this language is not up to par for interpreting and you will probably stop offering it. It's a personal experiencience of mine.

(01 Jan '13, 14:18) Conrado

Chinese interpreters always work in bilingual booths going bothways between Chinese and English. Very little use for passive Chinese on any market.

(15 Jan '13, 09:45) Danielle
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question asked: 21 Dec '12, 03:43

question was seen: 6,501 times

last updated: 15 Jan '13, 09:45 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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