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In general terms, when does a B language become strong enough to be called an A language? Where do you draw the line?

Though French is my A language, I'm unsure whether English is an A or a B language for me. Some people have suggested I may be a double A. The last time I worked with an English A colleague, he asked me at the end of the day whether English was my first language, which it isn't. He also said I might be a double A. I don't want to claim to be something I'm not, so I'm asking what the general consensus is.

asked 05 Oct '13, 23:07

alexandrec's gravatar image


Let me just add a few personal comments on the topic.

Many years ago I was working in the booth with a really good English colleague who indeed has - and deservedly so - a double A in English and German. Then there was a point when some German accent was spoken which she found really hard to grasp so she passed the microphone to me (German mother tongue). A day later there was a speaker with such a heavy Irish accent that I passed the microphone to her and we both laughed. This little episode just goes to show what actually "mother tongue" or "mother tongue equivalent" means.

For example

  • Understanding many accents and colloquialisms
  • Understanding puns and humour
  • Being able to understand headlines of papers without having to do much research
  • Having a solid knowledge of many proverbs and sayings - including slogans from marketing and advertising
  • Knowing famous quotations
  • Knowing also older forms of the language
  • Feeling at ease when changing register
  • Knowing about latest developments in the language - newly coined terms etc.
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answered 06 Oct '13, 16:41

AlmuteL's gravatar image


edited 06 Oct '13, 17:00


Hi Alexandrec, Almute's comments here are very interesting because they all relate, not to language ability (accent, mistakes, use of register), but to experience in the language. Someone who has grown up in a country will have clocked up thousands more hours experience than a bilingual who hasn't and when you get up to the top levels of language use that starts to make a difference. Andy

(11 Oct '13, 14:31) Andy

A Language: The interpreter's mother tongue (or another language strictly equivalent to a mother tongue), into which s/he interprets from all other working languages, generally in the two modes of interpretation, simultaneous and consecutive. AIIC members are expected to have at least one A language.

B Language: A language into which the interpreter works from one or more of her/his other languages and which, although not a mother tongue, is a language of which s/he has perfect command. Some interpreters work into B languages in only one of the two modes of interpretation. In principle, an interpreter’s main active language is the mother tongue - the language in which the interpreter was formally educated and feels completely at ease.

An active language which is not the interpreter’s mother tongue can only be acquired after years of hard work and frequent stays in a country of that language. Usually, however, the second active language reaches a satisfactory standard only after many years of practice and is more suited to interpretation of technical discussions where lexical accuracy is more important than style or very discrete shades of meaning. It is customary only to work into the second active language out of the mother tongue.

The very rare case of true bilinguals, i.e. people whose personal circumstances have resulted in their having two "mother tongues", is the exception that proves the rule. Bilingual interpreters are much in demand, especially if they can offer a third language.

Were you formally educated in English too? Can you work from other languages other than French into English?

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answered 06 Oct '13, 04:29

Stefano's gravatar image


edited 06 Oct '13, 04:31

Thank you. My university education was indeed in English. Although I hope to add German as a C language some day, French and English are my only languages for now.

(06 Oct '13, 12:41) alexandrec

Moins de 10% des interprètes AIIC ont un double A reconnu (voir page 10 et 11 de ce document).

Un AB solide comme du roc ou un AA, peu importe au final, on parle là de nuances de gris qui sur le terrain ne feront peu ou pas de différence.

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answered 06 Oct '13, 13:10

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Vous avez sûrement raison.

(06 Oct '13, 13:18) alexandrec


Voici un petit "test de dépistage" que je recommande à ceux qui se demandent quelle est véritablement leur langue A : imaginez que les circonstances vous obligent à IMPROVISER l'éloge funèbre d'une personne récemment décédée ; dans quelle langue cet exercice vous semble-t-il le plus "facile" ? Ce sera très probablement votre langue A.

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answered 07 Oct '13, 16:33

leprof's gravatar image


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question asked: 05 Oct '13, 23:07

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