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Hello everyone,

I have always heard/read that having Mandarin Chinese as a C language was useless both on the private and public markets. I am wondering whether having it on top of a traditional FR(A) +EN/SPA(C) would be of any use at the UN ? Would it be appealing to UN recruiters, does it change anything at all, does it give an edge over other profiles ? In other words, is it worth investing time, efforts, sweat and tears into it :) ? Correct me if I'm wrong but I have the feeling that currently mainly Russian is all the vogue at the UN...(for FRA/ENG booths).

I have naturally tried asking the question to the UN, to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, but I've not been able to reach anyone able to give me an satisfactory answer. All I got was the people in charge of the outreach programme, who gave me the impression of shirking from trying to find an answer to my question...

Thanks for you input ! :-)


asked 29 Jun '13, 08:19

angabongo's gravatar image


edited 24 Jun '14, 03:28

Delete's gravatar image

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What Stefano says is absolutely right. Chinese and Arabic are still an exception at the UN, and I imagine that the "additional passive languages" mentioned in the job description may be Russian when you have Spanish and vice-versa.

I answered a similar question asked by a Spanish student somewhere else in this Forum, with these comments:

" Out of the main “exotic” languages, Russian is the only one to be integrated in a normal language regime, at least in the UN family. Namely, it is worth having a C as you will be able to interpret from your Russian C into your mother tongue.

As far as other Asian languages, such as Chinese, are concerned, you need to be able to do a bilingual booth to be really employable, and even if there is a dire scarcity of good Chinese-Spanish interpreters, I’d say it would take you at least 10 years (and half of those in China) to be really proficient. I have a M.A. in Chinese and lived in Taiwan for a year. I could have offered, back in the 80’s, a C in Chinese (besides my “natural” combination of English and Spanish into French). I enquired with the UN about any openings at the time and the answer was that a C in Chinese would not be considered a plus, as the Chinese booth provided a “retour” (i.e. worked back into French or English). "

Unfortunately, the situation has not changed in 25 years ;-(

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answered 29 Jun '13, 16:22

Danielle's gravatar image



Thank you very much Danielle for your reply!Good to know before spending a crazy amount of time in improving a language that I will never be able to work with as a C.

(29 Jun '13, 16:32) angabongo

I've read that at the UN Chinese and Arabic are some sort of exceptions, i.e. Chinese and Arabic interpreters work from their mother tongue into their B language, therefore no interpreter in the English, French, Spanish or Russian booth work from those two languages, but from the relais, as far as I know.

edit: "A team for a six-language meeting requires 14 interpreters: three per booth for Arabic and Chinese (because they interpret from and into those languages), and two apiece for English, French, Russian and Spanish."

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answered 29 Jun '13, 12:54

Stefano's gravatar image


edited 29 Jun '13, 12:56

Hello Stefano Here is what you get on the UN language website: "Managers of translation services and interpretation booths at all duty stations would welcome qualified candidates able to work from additional (above and beyond the required two) passive languages, since such staff members are more versatile and afford greater flexibility in programming assignment." I am wondering if it's the case for the aforementioned language combination.

(29 Jun '13, 13:41) angabongo

I wish I could help you (I'm Italian mother tongue, so the UN is no option for me) :-) Maybe there's some UN interpreter in the forum that will show up... let's wait and see!

(29 Jun '13, 13:48) Stefano

Stefano is right. There's no chance of doing Chinese or Arabic as C at the UN

(30 Jun '13, 12:55) Andy

HI Chris! I'm afraid I'm no UN interpreter myself, but a couple of months ago, the head of the French booth at the UN came to my school to share some information about working as an interpreter for the UN. Danielle and Stefano are absolutely right, the UN will not let any interpreters from the EN, FR, ES or RU booth work from Chinese or Arabic. This was crushing news for a couple of friends of mine who happen to have a Chinese C. All the best! :)

(04 Jul '13, 23:13) Annie
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question asked: 29 Jun '13, 08:19

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