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I'm looking for your opinion and guidance in choosing the best Masters program for my language combinations: English (A), French (B), Mandarin (between a B and a C, not sure). I've done much reading on various forums and still am having trouble coming to a conclusive answer.

Some background information: I'm a Chinese-Canadian currently living in Toronto, Canada. I grew up in the bilingual city of Montreal, Canada, speaking Mandarin at home and only French at school until the age of 18, at which point I switched to an English school. I then worked for 5 years in English in a professional marketing/consulting role. I also spent 1 year working in Beijing to solidify my Mandarin. I have some experience with conference interpreting ENG--> FR, FR --> ENG and also CHINESE --> English, and I'm now looking to further establish my credibility as a freelancer with a Masters program and eventually pursuing certification.

Spending 2 years to study for a degree is a holistic decision, so I'm also taking into consideration others factors such as: cost and standard of living, people, future career prospects and ability to find part-time job to help fund studies.

The schools that I am considering:

1) ESIT. Pro: will help polish my French, cultural hub Con: there will be adaptation required from Canadian French to French French, expensive city?

2) York's program in Canada: online program, more flexibility and right in Toronto. Con: less recognized school (I believe?), cannot improve French nor Chinese contextually.

3) Monterey: Pro: seems like solid program for my language combinations con: far, expensive, may not be allowed to work part-time?

4) Shangwai, Beiwai or Taiwan. Pro: will help with Chinese, close to family. Con: may not be able to work part-time, do not plan to stay in China to work after.

I know I'm throwing a lot in the pot but wanted to provide as much information as possible to help you help me. Thank you so much in advance!

asked 14 Nov '13, 21:12

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edited 22 Feb '14, 11:09

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Update: In the end, I chose Canada's Glendon College MCI because it was the most flexible and cost-effective (no relocation cost and access to government loans and grants in my case). I successfully passed the exit exams in July 2016. I will never know if other programs would have led to a better outcome/training, but overall my experience at Glendon was positive. It is a relatively new program, but the lab and equipment is brand new, the professors are committed and competent, and the student and alumni body is highly supportive. However, there was unexpectedly no English A professor on staff in my cohort (Sept. '15 - July '16). Instead we got 4 weeks of intensive training with 2 prominent English A professors and a steady stream of intensive weeks with other European teachers.

My official combination is A-B-C (ENG-FR-ZH), but I was allowed to audit the into ZH classes taught by the excellent Emma Xin Zhang and fully participated as a Mandarin B student. I have since gotten work in both AB - French and AB - ZH. The advice to prioritize one's language pairs is a good one. The plan for now is to spend the next little while strengthening my English and French first - and acquiring some experience!, then perhaps pursue another degree for ENG - ZH, or even FR - ZH if it comes to it. I expect most of the learning and improvement to come from self-education.

Reading back on this thread three years later, I realize some of my assumptions were rather naive e.g. capping my education to 2 years max. I now realize professional interpreters are in for the long-haul and it is a lifelong pursuit of deliberate study on all fronts, not some linear path to success after a few exams. Nor can you be defined by a few letters. From my understanding what is A, B, or C is only directional and only you can find your own path. Instead of obsessing over them, time is better invested in becoming a better interpreter.

(28 Nov '16, 10:22) Siane

Hi Xiang,

You first have to decide if you want to do FR B or ZH B. (I, and most trainers, will tell you it's not realistic to aim at 2 B's). And perhaps also where you see yourself working (because teachers will be your first introduction to work and the market, so it's not a bad idea to study where you intend to work.)

(Once you've got an interpreting qualification with one combination you can think about adding another B. But first things first!)

If French is to be your B, then I think you're right about Paris. Yes it's an expensive city, but I think ESIT is free (at least to Europeans). There's also a big FR-EN market there. If you want to work in Toronto you might be able to combine. I think (someone correct me if I'm wrong) that York is a 2 year course and you can jump into the 2nd year if you can pass the appropriate exams. If you'd spent a year in Paris you might be able to.

If you want a Chinese B, then you will have to go to China (even with your solid ZH background and experience). But make sure there is a native English speaker interpreter teaching you at whichever school you choose.

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answered 16 Nov '13, 03:14

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Hi Andy,

Thanks for helping me think through these important questions. After doing more research I now believe that I'm only a C in ZH and not even sure if I qualify as a French B by the rigorous standards of top schools. I guess that's what those admissions exams are for! The only one I'm sure about is English A - interesting how I now feel the most confident and comfortable in English when it's my third language and I didn't even speak it before the age of 18.

It'll take me quite a bit more work and time in China to get my Chinese to a solid B, and probably at the expense of maintaining/improving my French.

So for now I'm leaning more towards ESIT, or even ISIT (though it's not free as a Canadian) and maybe try to transfer back to Toronto York program in the 2nd year to save. Great suggestion, I'll inquire about it.

Thanks, and your website has great resources too, thanks for sharing!

(17 Nov '13, 02:01) Siane

Glad to help out.

(17 Nov '13, 04:16) Andy

I think you also need to get your priorities right, or in other words, a list of things from important to less so in your considerations.

For instance:

 1. able to work part-time or not?
 2. cost
 3. geographical area of professional practice after graduation
 4. language combination
 5. reputation of training institution

Each of these can be eliminatory. If , for example, no. 1 is the most important to you, then full time programmes are ruled out. You can do the same thing with your other considerations.

In addition, you need to realize that if you have Chinese, the market is almost always bilingual, meaning your B must be strong enough to handle retour, i.e. you must have very strong Chinese. And your choice of training institutions are most likely limited to full-time programmes. I suggest you focus on one language pair. After you have those, the skills can be easily transferred to other language pairs, so long as you can get a third language up to interpreting level.

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answered 16 Nov '13, 11:28

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edited 17 Nov '13, 04:48

Angela's gravatar image


Hi Hong,

Thanks for your feedback. I like your strategic decision-making thought process. I guess I'm looking to make a "weighted average best" sort of decision - and it's not easy!

Perhaps focusing on one language pairing at the time is wise, in my case French is stronger but I do feel that there may be less saturation and a stronger demand for Chinese, globally.

I wonder why schools such as ESIT require applicants to have at least 3 language combinations when, to your point realistically speaking, working on 2 languages at a time should yield better quality.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and best of luck to you.

(16 Nov '13, 23:50) Siane

"I wonder why schools such as ESIT require applicants to have at least 3 language combinations when, to your point realistically speaking, working on 2 languages at a time should yield better quality."

The purpose of conference interpreting training is not to focus on improving the language level. Languages must be mastered beforehand at the required level. Some schools won't admit students who don't have a language combination which will allow them to make a living off interpreting. That is a very good thing in my opinion. Way better than admitting people who will be unfit to survive on the market. That approach is deceiving for students who believe that they'll end up being able to make a carreer in conference interpreting. Producing unhappy and unemployed graduates doesn't benefit our profession.

I'm not saying that in this given case, one couldn't make it just by having an AB combination. Just guess-plaining the schools' rationale.

(17 Nov '13, 12:48) Gaspar ♦♦

Hi Gaspar, thanks for the feedback, makes sense. I'm a newbie in this field and am trying to learn as much as I can about the options available so I make the most informed decision.

(18 Nov '13, 01:31) Siane

Interestingly I have been asking myself the exact same question these last few days (I'm french though), and I think I came to a conclusion for myself, I don't know if it can help you.

I have found this very interesting double master program between BCLU and ISIT, here are the informations :



Basically you can go to ISIT and do a year there and a year in China, or you can go to BCLU to study for two years with the chinese students and get into ISIT for the third year, this is what I think I am going to do. BCLU is not as well known internationally as BeiWai and ShangWai, but according to my research their french departement has a very good reputation. That and you have to be careful because it looks like those other programs, like in ShangWai for example, will only let you study either french-chinese or english-chinese, but not french-english-chinese.

You might be interested in this discussion on another forum, we start talking about the options for french-english-chinese schools around page 3.

Finally I'm waiting on some answers on ShangWai and BeiWai in this thread :

edit : I also made this thread which you might also find interesting.

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answered 15 Nov '13, 07:22

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edited 15 Nov '13, 07:50

Simplexe, ISIT doesn't have a third year on the interpreting course. (The translation course is 5 years up to MA, the interpreting course is 2 years post MA).

(16 Nov '13, 03:16) Andy

You're right, but this is a double diploma : you're not doing three years at ISIT. You're doing two years in China where you get your first degree (master in translation and interpretation), and then you enter ISIT directly in the second year, to get another degree in France (either a master in interpretation or a master in translation).

By the way I think they have a similar option at ESIT where you can enter the school in the second year direcly after an exam if you already have a master, I suspect it's also aiming at chinese students somewhat.

(16 Nov '13, 04:35) simplexe

Simplexe, I can't thank you enough for pointing me to all these other invaluable resources on the topic! I feel both excited and overwhelmed. I now think I need to do a lot more in depth research before making a decision. Despite experiencing a bit of information overload, here's what I teased out:

  • Monterey is out at the moment: I can't see myself dropping US$ 100,000 on a degree, however world-class it may be. I just don't see the ROI for now. It does sound like a top notch program though for those who can afford it and maybe in the future.

  • ShangWai is also out due to a strong, convincing opinion from the other forum

  • The double degree program does sound like a great middle solution! Ideally, however, I'd like to spend no more than 2 years on a Master's. Since you are French, I'd love to hear your thoughts on ISIT? I only ever read about ESIT in Paris, is ISIT its "trendier", younger cousin? I like that it offers other programs of international nature.

  • I now also wonder if my Canadian French will even be considered a B by Paris' standards. I have a couple French friends and I know the discrepancy in expression can vary quite a bit.

  • Reading all the threads made me reflect a lot on my priorities. I don't like to spend too much time in China (personal preference) and do not envision myself working there in the long term. My motivation in studying the language is to add value to a simple FR-ENG pairing which in Canada is quite common, and also for cultural/heritage reasons.

  • I wonder how easy it is to transfer from one school to another even without formal partnerships? Many had great things to say about Taiwan Normal University, it'd be great if I could study there for 1 year and complete in France at ESIT or ISIT. Just a thought.

Next steps for me are to contact the schools directly and try to get in touch with current and former students. I'd love to know what your final decision is and hear about the continuation of your path!

(17 Nov '13, 01:42) Siane

Hey Xiang, happy to be of service.

A few thoughts :

  • ISIT is a little bit "younger" than ESIT (not by much though : 1957 instead of 1951), but I'm not sure it's "friendlier". The tuition is a lot steeper for example (about 5000€ instead of 600-800 in ESIT). The school is more "business oriented", but overall I think they are roughly on par reputation-wise. I think at the moment ESIT might be a little bit ahead and they have more chinese students.

  • You have to be careful with your two-year limit. It seems pretty common to fail the graduation exam the first time and do another year, maybe you should take that into account (you can look that up in the AIIC school directory ( under "exams and test procedures"). In general it's my impression that it's better to take things slowly.

  • Taiwan seems good, you will have to give up french while you're there though.

  • Your french will probably be fine, if you study in Paris for a while you should get the hang of both french french and canadian french, always a good thing.

  • I'm not sure how easy it will be to change programs mid-master between schools that don't have convention agreements between them. But you can do the ISIT-BCLU double master from the french side and only do a year in France then a year in China. Apparently ISIT also have an agreement with 广外, at least that's what the chinese teacher at ISIT told me yesterday.

  • I sent an email to BCLU to get some info, I can transfer their answer to you if you'd like.

I'd be interested to hear about what you find too, on here or on the other forum I linked to earlier.


(17 Nov '13, 04:27) simplexe

Hi Simplexe. I'd love to hear what you get back from BCLU. I'll also keep you posted if I hear of anything that may be useful to you.

I studied business in undergrad and worked 5 years as an assistant buyer and then marketing consultant for a large retail chain here in Toronto, so while I would love being a generalist, I'm thinking of leveraging my experience to specialize in business - ISIT may be a better fit in that case, though I'm certain both schools offer quality training. The price of entry of ESIT is amazing (not if I have to fail 2-3 times though :)!

The 2 year limit is mostly to minimize the time I'd be living off my savings in a country where I can't easily work part-time. I have to find out about Paris.

(18 Nov '13, 01:44) Siane

Oops I think I may have low-balled a little the price of entry at ISIT, here is what I found on their site :

Montant des frais de scolarité 2013-2014 (pour 2 langues)

Programme Management, Communication, Traduction Entre 7260 € et 7410 € par an selon les années

Programme Juriste linguiste 3197 € par an pour 1 langue et 4176 € par an pour 2 langues

Programme Interprétation de conférence Entre 6029 € et 7448 € par an selon les combinaisons linguistiques et les années

I think ESIT and ISIT are about the same in difficulty, in fact according to the AIIC more people passed on their first try at ESIT in conf interpretation.

Here is the mail I got from BCLU :

第一个是没有问题的。因为我们是合作关系,你先拿到我们的毕业证,相当于我们的毕业生,应该享受同等待遇。 关于第二个问题,你说的是对的。目前,你只能注册在英汉或法汉专业,但是学院可以允许你去选择另一个专业方向的部分课程。此外,我们从2014年开始可能要开设英法汉方向,估计你学两年后应该能赶上。 谢谢关注


我有一些关于BCLU和ISIT的双硕士学位的问题. 我是法国学生,可是我对北京语言大学的MTI有兴趣。我的问题是:我不要立刻报读ISIT,我觉得最好是先在BLCU学习两年(从2014年开始),然后去考ISIT的二年级升学考试,跟中国学生一样。法国学生会不会怎么做?

我的第二个问题是:双硕士学位项目的简介( )表示这个项目的专业方向是汉-法-英笔译和口译。可是如果我要申请( ),好像只有两个选择:要么是学习汉-英笔译,要么是学习汉-法口译。那我该怎么办?


(18 Nov '13, 02:29) simplexe

Hi again Simplexe, back to your comment above..."2 years in China....and then you enter ISIT directly in the second year". I'm fairly sure you can't jump into the 2nd year of the interpreting course at ISIT. A Masters is a requirement to enter the 1st year of the interpreting course.

(18 Nov '13, 13:04) Andy

Hey Andy, I'm pretty sure that the conference interpreting program is a regular MA degree at ISIT : you can get in after a licence (3 year degree in France). At least that's what it says on their website :

Interprétation de conférence

Inscription et admissibilité Conditions Avoir validé sa 3e année à l’ISIT et pour les autres candidats, être titulaire d’une Licence ou d’un Master, quel qu’en soit le domaine, ou d’un titre ou diplôme équivalent Avoir séjourné au moins 1 an dans un pays d’une des langues B ou C présentée Posséder une excellente maîtrise des langues présentées

I asked BLCU about the double diploma and also went to ISIT saturday to meet the chinese teacher, they both told me that I could enter ISIT in the second year (after an exam of course, and you have to come from a school they have an agreement with). Where did you get your info that it's impossible?

(18 Nov '13, 13:32) simplexe

Hi Simplexe,

I just revived this thread to close the loop on this subject. I'm really curious as to what you ended up doing. Further education in Asia or Europe is not out of the question completely, but I'm shelving it for now.

(28 Nov '16, 10:39) Siane

Hi Siane!

it's funny that I saw your message here so quickly because I almost never come back to this site any more :p

In the end I chose to go to BLCU in Beijing and I can't really say that I regret it, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it to other students either. My main problem is that I completely underestimated the level of Chinese needed to be an interpreter, and even now after more than two years in Beijing I don't think I'm really there.

Of course that might actually have been a good thing, because the French level of the students in my program was even worse than my Chinese. The major problem with these non-English Chinese programs is that the quasi-entirety of students only starts to learn the language they're supposed to interpret into four years before entering the program (when they start studying at the university), and it's just not a good enough foundation to become anything close to a professional interpreter in two years.

There was also no Chinese-French-English program in the university, so they simply let me pay a bundle of money to take part in some special English-Chinese program taught by professional interpreters (this class was actually pretty useful (and very difficult for me), but still nowhere near the level of an actual interpretation class in a European school I suspect). They've now created a FR-EN-ZH program in BLCU, but it started only last year with freshmen, so it will take them another two years before the have a graduate-level class ready, and even then I doubt they will have a good enough level (in French at least).

(13 Dec '16, 23:02) simplexe

In the end I got two years to improve my Chinese and live in Beijing, mostly financed by the Chinese government through a scholarship, and I'm making a decent living as a translator while I'm waiting to start a PhD here.I'm not exactly complaining but I can see how that might not be ideal for someone who actually has the level in Chinese to pretend becoming an interpreter. In that case, the only programs I can see being really useful are either the one supported by the European Union in UIBE in Beijing or the program in Taiwan, both in Chinese-English.

(13 Dec '16, 23:02) simplexe
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question asked: 14 Nov '13, 21:12

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last updated: 13 Dec '16, 23:02

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