This site is no longer active. Looking for a conference interpreter? For news, events, contacts and any other information on conference interpreting, please visit us at



I've started my applications to several CI schools, in English A and French B. Specifically, I am an English A, Korean B, and French C - but not all schools offer that combination so to some I've applied En-Kr-Fr, to others En-Fr.

I consider English to be my A language, since I feel most comfortable expressing my thoughts and logically organizing them in English, not Korean, although I was born in Korea. I lived in an English-speaking country for about 6 years, and am now completing a BA conducted entirely in English.

Today I received an e-mail from a UK university stating that they cannot accept my application since "I am not an English A", despite me having explained my A language situation in the statement of purpose. I clearly stated that due to personal circumstances I feel most competent in English as A language, and also attached several English proficiency exam results, including a 119/120 TOEFL iBT score. Also, A US university contacted me, and have switched my A and B - which is quite uncomfortable for me, but to which I complied thinking my application could otherwise be annulled like the previous one.

I guess from the universities' pov, it could seem like I'm imposing English as an A because Korean is just such an uncommon language combination - and I do understand that it's quite logical to deduce that one's 'native' language is one's A language. But I'm worried other universities will decline my application based on the same reason. I don't want to work with Korean as A, since, well, it's not my A language, and I won't be as competent! :(

I wonder if anyone else has had this issue in applying or working with their language combinations - their 'native' language not being their A language, and how they've dealt with it.

asked 22 Nov '13, 19:15

tchoko's gravatar image


edited 23 Nov '13, 05:34

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦


Hi everyone, thank you for your answers and comments!

A month after I wrote this post, I was accepted into both Monterey and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Korean-English-French combination. I was even offered a partial scholarship from Monterey. However, Monterey did refused to accept English as A and insisted I change my application to Korean A. HUFS does not actually ask applicants to declare ABC - it is automatically assumed you are a Korean A.

I also applied to Bath and Leeds, if I remember correctly, with English A and French B, and was rejected - the interviewer said although I was an English A, I was not a French B, more a French C - and since I don't have an ACC European language combo, there was no other option. I also applied with Korean A and French B to ESIT in Translation - also rejected, albeit by a small margin.

Anyway, I've decided to pursue a Master's in France, and am currently continuing to work as a Korean-English translator, which I've been doing since 2013. Right now I've landed my first English to Korean project, which I'm finding challenging, and my editor's comments are concreting the idea that I am indeed an English A and Korean B.

I've also had the chance to talk to a few people in linguistics, who've commented that my English doesn't really have a specific accent - it doesn't sound 100% American, but it also doesn't sound completely British. And apparently people like to pick sides. Maybe this is another reason people don't believe English is my A language.

Gaspar - thank you for your comments! I'll definitely ask Mrs Lim for advice in the future if I choose to go back to Interpreting. And also, I didn't know about alingualism - I've seen a few people like this, mostly those who've drifted through international schools. Didn't know it had a label.

(23 Feb '16, 16:36) tchoko

Hi Tchoko, Just a quick comment on the US vs UK accent thing - it may not be so much of an accent issue. After all, there are many US-born interpreters who grew up on the East coast, and moved to the UK or Europe and have what we would now call a mid-Atlantic accent. The issue for picking sides is more vocabulary. Words do differ in how they are used between the two versions of English, and you really need to pick one and stick to it. To give just one example, I remember a meeting on roads that wasted half an hour discussing a text where the EN version said "pavement" and the French translated the text using the UK version of the word (i.e. footpath) while the Russians using the US version of the word (i.e. roadway).

(24 Feb '16, 13:17) JuliaP

Hi Tchoko,

My background is similar to yours and I'll get to it in a bit. Firstly, from your post I get the feeling that you are not 100% convinced yourself that EN is indeed your A language. I'm not sure how you presented yourself to the university in question but if it's in the same tone as you present yourself here I'm not surprised they're not taking your word for it.

You use sentences such as "I consider English to be my A language," and "I feel most competent in English as A language." This, to me, sends a very clear message: you are not sure if your EN is strong enough to be your A. As the others mention, it could indeed be that the university doesn't believe your EN to be strong enough for CI. On the other hand, if English is your A language then you say, "English is my A language." Period. Full stop. No hunches or room for guessing. I learned this from a friend who's an interpreter at the UN and it's served me VERY well.

My A language is EN and I speak it at a native level (to me it is my native language) but by definition my mother tongue is PT (even if I used to speak it with an accent till not too long ago). It never even occurred to me to have PT as anything higher than a C but when I went in for my CI school tests the trainers kept questioning my combination. I explained my background and looked every one of them in the eye every time I affirmed that English is my A language.

Still, I must say I felt a little singled out during training anyway. I speak American EN and my trainers are from the UK so when they heard an unfamiliar expression they often questioned my EN. I had to sit there and explain, for example, that yes, Americans do say "take the cake," not "take the biscuit."

Best of luck!

permanent link

answered 27 Nov '13, 09:12

TheInterpretator's gravatar image


I lived in an English-speaking country for about 6 years, and am now completing a BA conducted entirely in English.

At what age did you learn the language? Did you complete your secondary education in English? Who did/do you speak English with since your childhood?

Was your language level assessed by a professional conference interpreter?

permanent link

answered 23 Nov '13, 08:10

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Hi Gaspar,

In a nutshell: Primary school - English Middle school- French High school - Korean BA - English

I speak Korean and English with my family - and talk in English with most of my friends here in Korea (most are Koreans who've lived abroad, or Korean Americans) as well as my childhood friends.

I didn't know I could get my language levels assessed by an interpreter, where should I look for such a service?

(23 Nov '13, 10:14) tchoko

Hi Tchoko,

thanks for the additional information.

I'd tend to guess that what the UK university tried to convey is that your EN might not be strong enough. That doesn't mean that they believe that your KR is stronger, just that your mastery of EN might not be sufficient to take a course in conference interpreting.

"[The A language] should itself be exceptionally rich and flexible, clearly surpassing the quality offered by an average, even university-educated, mother-tongue speaker." (Chris Guichot de Fortis, A few thoughts on B languages -

Third culture kids are prone to be alingual. While laymen often believe that their polyglot traits could benefit them in the language services industry, it often turns out to be a burden.

My advice would be to get on the horn and land a phone interview with a trainer from any of the schools you applied to. Assessing your language level based only on your CV isn't reliable (and by the way, which are the schools that don't conduct interviews?).

If you're still in Korea, you might try getting in touch with Ms Hyang-Ok LIM, who seems to be the only AIIC member with EN A in Seoul and ask her very kindly for some advice and an evaluation of your English level.

As soon as you know that your English is A level material, get back to Monterrey and ask them if you can study your actual language combination.

(24 Nov '13, 14:06) Gaspar ♦♦

Gaspar is spot on...

...except in his use of the word alingual. He is right the first time when he says "your mastery of EN might not be sufficient to take a course in conference interpreting". And that may be the case for all your languages. But not having a language up to CI standards doesn't make you alingual. It means you don't have a language up to CI standards. For a longer discussion on that abomination of a word see this thread

(24 Nov '13, 15:04) Andy

Guilty as charged! Le terme est en effet mal choisi, merci pour la rectification. :-)

(24 Nov '13, 15:20) Gaspar ♦♦

Ms Hyang-Ok LIM is indeed the person to talk to, as she has your potential combination and is a reputable trainer herself.

(28 Nov '13, 07:36) Danielle

My reading is that you have an English B. I know of people with a similar background as you. But you should be very proud that you have a B-level in English. This is a proficiency level which is similar to a well-educated American, even if not the very best well educated Americans. Korean and English are usually translated bidirectionally, and I know a lot of people in APAC with dual B's and they get along just fine in the market. One of the interpreting schools in the APAC region said in the newspapers that they can find few people whose language skills approach a native level, which is kind of like saying that the A-C combination dominates the market. You might also check to see if there's any English A's on the Korean market -- I've never heard of any. Is it going to be a good way to present yourself?

I am sure that if you follow some leads, you will be able to find great opportunities just waiting for you out there and that a lot of this anxiety will be resolved once you find the right mentors.

(19 Feb '16, 16:48) Adrian Lee D...
showing 5 of 6 show 1 more comments

From what I saw during my own experience... sometimes it's all about marketing.

It's not fair, because there are plenty of people who grew up speaking one language to their parents and English (or whatever) everywhere else, and the general public (and yes, sometimes even old-fashioned European interpreting program directors) hold strange views of acculturation and immigration (at least strange to this American*), and will refuse to believe a candidate when they insist on what their A language is, simply because of how things are presented.

On the other hand, there are cases where someone insists they are an Arabic A- because they spoke Arabic to their mother at home while attending schools in Paris their entire lives.

So are you presenting yourself to schools as a Korean who speaks a very high level of English and spent lots of time in the United States and watched Sesame Street as a kid? Or are you presenting yourself as an American whose parents are Korean and happens to have spent a lot of time in Korea growing up? Sometimes that can make all the difference, at least when it comes to their openness and willingness to let you sit a test.

Like Gaspar suggested in the comments, try to call them and ask for an interview in English over the phone, and think about how you sound selling your case.

*No one in my family has spoken anything but English in 2 generations, and more than once I still found myself having to explain to people that I am indeed an English A, despite a not-very-English last name. :/

permanent link

answered 22 Feb '16, 06:42

InesdC's gravatar image


Your answer
toggle preview

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Markdown Basics

  • *italic* or _italic_
  • **bold** or __bold__
  • link:[text]( "title")
  • image?![alt text](/path/img.jpg "title")
  • numbered list: 1. Foo 2. Bar
  • to add a line break simply add two spaces to where you would like the new line to be.
  • basic HTML tags are also supported

Question tags:


question asked: 22 Nov '13, 19:15

question was seen: 11,176 times

last updated: 24 Feb '16, 13:17

powered by OSQA