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Hello everyone.

I'm about to spend a year in Russia teaching french in Uni and doing an internship for the french embassy and I'm wondering about my options for applying to interpretation school next year. I have a few questions.

Chinese is the language that interests me most, but it seems that there isn't much of a market for Chinese as a C language : is it worth it to work my ass off to try to turn it into a B language, and to go to Shanghai to study it specially? If I go to China I'll probably have to give up Russian from my combination at least at first, it's a bit hard to find info about the school in Shanghai. I would have to go for Spanish, or maybe German instead, or maybe just go for 3 languages if I can't get ready in time (I'm currently about C1 in Mandarin, B2 in Spanish and B1 in German; my english is very good and I've actually worked as an interpreter to and from english for several international instutions when I was teaching french in Africa, granted it was Africa).

My russian is not very good currently (A2+ maybe), but I think I can get it to a decent level if I work hard during the year I'll be there (I'll have a lot of free time and it will be fresh when I take the exams next year). Is FR-EN-ZH-RU a good combination, or is the chinese useless for example? If I really want to work in the field is it better to go for the very prestigious schools like ESIT or ISIT or to actually study for the full two years in Shanghai speaking chinese all the time?

I know it's a lot of questions, thanks for any info!

asked 05 Nov '13, 12:34

simplexe's gravatar image


edited 16 Nov '13, 03:21

Andy's gravatar image


Thanks for all the answers everyone!

It seems that all hope is not completely lost, but there isn't that much of it either. I'm currently leaning toward maybe doing a 2-years master in China in french-english-chinese, and then maybe coming back to France to do another year and add a language. It's just that I'm not that young anymore (just turned 27) and I really hope I'm not going into a wall.

Does anyone know why the Beijing Foreign studies university is not approved by the AIIC? It seems that a lot of people think it's a better school than SISU in Shanghai...

(06 Nov '13, 04:42) simplexe

I would add that Chinese, more so than other languages, presents a particular challenge in becoming a true B language, in that having any sort of accent really detracts from the message. To work with active Chinese, you really need perfect tones and without them you run the risk of really distorting the message. In comparison to English for example, where many interpreters work with a slightly accented English B (maybe the intonation or rhythm is a bit unnatural sounding but still understandable), the equivalent in Chinese can really throw things off. The counter argument is, of course, that in most instances where tones could confuse meaning the context makes it clear, but I would say that it isn't your audience's duty to decipher your intended meaning from what you've given them.

Though this solution may not be for you, the decision I made with my own Chinese is to keep it in my repertoire for written translation work and interpret my other languages. In writing, it is realistic for me to develop my skills to a professional quality. I do understand your frustration in investing so much time in mastering a supposedly "highly employable" language that is, within the language industry, really hard to employ. It's an incredible asset if you wanna impress a potential investor with some well-played 成语, but not very useful if you want to be a respected translator/interpreter with L2 Chinese.

Market demands could obviously always change, but at the moment, the demand for any language into Chinese is a community that has a huge supply of accent-less native speakers at hand. Partly a question of functionality, partly a question of snobbery, partly due to the UN's standard for Chinese interpretation being the de-facto universal for Chinese booths everywhere, no one is really hiring L2 Chinese speakers either active or passive.

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answered 06 Nov '13, 00:34

charlielee's gravatar image



NB : demographically speaking, Chinese interpretation is all Chinese A's, but in the world of translation, second-language Chinese is a tremendously sought after asset.

(06 Nov '13, 00:37) charlielee

NB2 : some anecdotal evidence that maybe all hope is not lost - an American I knew in Taiwan just completed an assignment with some Chinese real estate developers in Réunion where he did FR<>ZH chuchotage. I also know a Tibetan interpreter in Zurich who regular uses her Chinese C with her German A and another Tibetan in Brussels who gets some, but not a lot, of work with her Chinese C and French A. They both, however, work bi-actively with Tibetan. Chinese for them is just a pleasant supplement to a combination that serves a very specific community.

(06 Nov '13, 01:04) charlielee

En un an, même en immersion, il est plus qu'imporbable que tu fasses d'un russe niveau A2 CEFR une langue C. Compte plutôt 4 à 5 ans.

Concernant le ZH, à l'ONU, c'est la cabine chinoise qui fait un retour vers les autres langues. J'ignore s'il y a un marché pour FR A - ZH C/B. S'il existe, ce sera probablement en Asie.

Avant de décider comment prioriser les langues, il faudrait te poser la question où tu peux t'imaginer vivre et travailler. Puis voir ce qui est réaliste comme attente par rapport à tes acquis et ta situation personnelle.

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answered 05 Nov '13, 14:18

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 05 Nov '13, 14:18

A vrai dire j'espérais atteindre un niveau en russe qui m'aurait peut-être permis de faire du russe une langue C après deux ans d'école, c'est-à-dire en trois ans. je commence à comprendre que cela ne marche pas comme ça.

Je serais ravi de travailler en Asie à vrai dire, ce serait plutôt un sacrifice pour moi de rester en France que le contraire (même si je suis prêt à faire les deux). Je commence à me dire que je devrais essayer de repartir enseigner le français en chine tout en étudiant à Shanghai simplement le chinois et l'anglais pendant 2 ans, et peut-être ensuite revenir en France et me réinscrire directement en master 2 à l'ESIT ou autre. Je ne sais pas si il sera possible de rajouter une langue à ce moment-là. Plus je m'informe et plus j'ai l'impression qu'il vaut mieux prendre les choses très lentement.

Ce qui m'inquiète, c'est que je mettrais vraiment le chinois au centre de ma combinaison. J'adore le chinois, mais c'est quand même une vraie chiennerie, et j'ai peur d'être délaissé pour des interprètes qui viennent du chinois...

(05 Nov '13, 15:05) simplexe

Apprendre une langue en école : Ce n'est pas l'objet de la formation. En master, on t'inculque les techniques spécifiques à l'interprétation de conférence. Tu dois arriver avec de solides bases en tout le reste, à commencer par des langues de travail à point.

(05 Nov '13, 18:17) Gaspar ♦♦

OK je comprend mieux maintenant. Merci pour la réponse!

(06 Nov '13, 04:06) simplexe

I second everything charlielee and Gregor_Seither have said. I live in Shanghai and will be sitting the HSK3 exam (our B1, more or less) this spring after a year of Chinese classes and immersion (which would probably be more full-on elsewhere in China, as you can very easily get by on just English in Shanghai). I'd like to start translating from Mandarin sometime in the next five years; interpreting from/into it is (for myself)not that realistic of a plan...

The more time I spend in China the more I realise that the business culture here is also a big factor in determining whether or not to add Chinese as a working language. Things are done very differently and you have to be very flexible.

As well as this, I would add that having both RU and ZH even as just C languages would probably entail a huge amount of work to keep them up.

There is high demand at the UN for English As with Russian; not sure what the situation is for French As. 'Plus je m'informe et plus j'ai l'impression qu'il vaut mieux prendre les choses très lentement' is probably the best way of looking at things.

Feel free to email me at if you have any questions about Shanghai, it is an amazing place to live if you decide to go down the Chinese road!

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answered 06 Nov '13, 03:53

Louise's gravatar image


Well I actually already have the HSK 6, I passed it this year quite easily after more than a year without using my chinese too much, so I'm hopeful that with a year of preparation I might be ready for trying for a chinese B in a good chinese university. Do you get the feeling that you could find some work in Shanghai for a chinese C? Are you making a living with your current combination?

I'll hold on to your e-mail address, I'll look into Shanghai some more and maybe I'll ask you some question if it's all right with you. Shanghai does sound like an awesome place to live in, it's just so hard to commit to something so important when there is so much uncertainty!

(06 Nov '13, 04:34) simplexe

Congrats on the HSK6 and see you up there in a couple of years! :)

I think finding work for a Chinese C in Shanghai would be quite difficult. There are a number of biactive ZH<>EN and ZH<>FR interpreters here, most of them native Chinese speakers. The bottom line seems to be your Chinese has to be active.

I get quite a few translation assignments from Europe but, the odd proofreading and editing job aside, have had no work on the local market, which is all ZH<>EN and EN>FR, DE, SP. There is huge demand for English translators working from Chinese and also quite a good market for French/German translators working from English. If your Chinese and English are solid it would not be difficult for you to find employment.

It can all be a bit overwhelming but China really is a land of opportunity at the moment and there is a tremendous feeling of anything being possible. Do email me if you have any questions, I'd be happy to help.

(06 Nov '13, 05:21) Louise

Un peu d'optimisme ça fait du bien!

Merci beaucoup pour les infos, et bon courage avec ton chinois! Je sais qu'il m'en a fallu pendant longtemps, mais c'est vraiment une langue magnifique.

Peut-être à bientôt!

(06 Nov '13, 05:41) simplexe

It depends WHERE you intend to work in the end... in Europe, Africa and American continent, second-language Chinese will be considered a big bonus, and you can get quite a lot of TRANSLATION work (particularly if you manage to get certified). Judging from my situation, here in North of France, Chinese is definitely a bigger market for ZH <> FR than Russian, since there are quite a number of RU interpreters on the market

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answered 06 Nov '13, 02:39

Gregor_Seither's gravatar image


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question asked: 05 Nov '13, 12:34

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