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Hi there - I'm an English native speaker from the UK and an aspiring interpreter! My goal is one day to be an interpreter for the European institutions and I was wondering if I could get some pointers as to the best C language to add to my language portfolio. I had a meeting with the head of the English booth for the European Parliament back in the summer and I was told that ideally they look for English plus three passive languages i.e. ACCC.

My current language situtation is as follows: English A, Polish C, German C. I currently live in Poland and study the language full time at C1 level and hope to pass the C2 exam in a year or so. German is at about the same level. However, I am unsure as to what my third language should be in terms of usefulness etc. Ideally with an eye on the private market as well..

Trying to save as much time as possible and build on already exisitng knowledge (as opposed to learning, say, Finnish ab initio) I think I have three main options: Dutch, Greek and French.

Dutch - relatively easy to learn after German, and already have a basic knowledge. Greek - I have a undergraduate degree in Ancient Greek, so I already have a massive head start. French - I have a rusty A level from 7 years ago.

Would anybody have any advice as to which languages would be most suited? I suppose the advantage of French and Dutch is that, if I were living in Brussels, I could practise them on a daily basis, but it would be nice to use my degree somehow too!

I would be sincerely grateful for any pointers given. Many thanks.

asked 14 May '14, 04:13

Kubb's gravatar image


edited 24 Jun '14, 03:24

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EN, DE, ES and FR are spoken in almost any meeting with interpretation. Having DE and FR would allow you to be programmed for all sorts of meetings.

NL is used less often in meetings and barely spoken in the street in Brussels (the population is de facto francophone, even if the city is officially bilingual).

EL is used about as often as PL. Having EL and PL would have you doing mostly Council meetings, i.e. thematic working parties discussing legislative proposals.

You could add FR now and EL a few years later, or vice-versa. Many colleagues have FR, yet there's a bigger need for that language. Very fewer colleagues have EL, yet the demand for that language is lower too. Both languages would get you work.

Language profiles in demand - 2014

Interpretation in figures - 2013

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answered 14 May '14, 05:31

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Gaspar ♦♦


EL is used about as often as PL. Having EL and PL would have you doing mostly Council meetings, i.e. thematic working parties discussing legislative proposals.

Not sure I agree with this bit. In my experience, Polish is much more widely used, both in Council and in Commission meetings.

(15 May '14, 05:14) Alexander

And don't forget the European Parliament. Both Greek and Polish are also used there.

(15 May '14, 08:02) Andy

Hi Kubb,

Gaspar is right: Go for French. French and German will improve your employability and Polish will give you the competitive edge. By the way: There is life for interpreters outside the EU institutions. DE and FR C might help you to get some freelance work on the private market whereas GR or NL will help you in a more limited way and practically only if you live in Greece or The Netherlands.

Regards, Conrado

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answered 14 May '14, 17:49

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Hi Conrado, thanks for your reply - is Polish really enough to give you a competitive edge? I would imagine everyone in the English booth has French and German.. and I don't know of course, but I would imagine Polish is becoming more popular.

(15 May '14, 03:53) Kubb

Hi Kubb, Most EN interpreters do have FR & DE, but there's a reason for that! They are the bread and butter languages. Also, as Conrado rightly says, there's life beyond Brussels for EN interpreters with DE & FR. Other C languages less so. If you want to aim at Brussels here's an argument for adding something other than FR to your DE & PL. But it should be a big language, e.g. IT or ES which complete the big 6.

(15 May '14, 08:05) Andy

That makes sense. Is that a better way to go about it - starting with the more mainstream languages? Do I take it it would be career suicide to go in with a more exciting and exotic combination e.g. DE, PL, EL or DE, PL, FIN or DE, PL, HU as an EN A?

(15 May '14, 19:52) Kubb

Starting with 3 C languages and one of them being DE or FR give you a head start compared to most of the beginners in the EN booth who only have 2 Cs.

DE, FR, PL will give you more possibilities. That does not mean that you couldn't make a living with DE, PL, EL. Some would say, go with whatever language you like, as long as they are in demand. All of those you mentioned (except maybe FI) are. But take also into account the number of years you'd need to get your 3rd language up to C level. After all, you'll have to start your carreer sooner or later. Avoiding 'difficult' languages you'd have to learn from scratch would be advisabe.

(16 May '14, 03:30) Gaspar ♦♦

Thanks Gaspar - that is definitely a consideration. I think I will probably have to just start with PL and DE, as that's more than enough work for the next couple of years. The universities here in Poland, mostly catering for Poles, require Polish as an active language - I checked with the course convenor and it is possible to have EN A and PL B, but obviously my Polish has to be solid. And I can then take German as a C language. FR makes the most sense then from what has been said as it's probably the best 3rd language I have - and I'll be surrounded by it in Brussels. Attaining B level fluency in PL, brushing up DE AND learning a language like HU or even EL from scratch is way too much for anyone's "5 year plan" I think! The path of least resistance: finish PL and DE, and add FR on the job :)

(16 May '14, 10:02) Kubb

I checked with the course convenor and it is possible to have EN A and PL B, but obviously my Polish has to be solid.

A solid B would require a few more years of learning, on top of the period needed to get the language to a C level. It's quite ambitious. More about B languages can be read here:

About doing a course in Poland: How many experienced conference interpreters with EN A would teach on that course and provide you with feedback regarding your mother tongue? How many students with EN A would there be? Studying in a foreign environment could be quite counterproductive, given the fact that training in conference interpreting technique focuses quite a lot on the flexibility of your mothertongue.

(16 May '14, 14:39) Gaspar ♦♦

As far as I am aware, and can tell from the website, all tutors are PL As, and I imagine I would probably be the only EN A on the course, as very few English speakers seem to have Polish, especially at B level. It hadn't occurred to me that it could be counterproductive - but if it's geared towards Polish natives that makes sense. Would you advise then possibly learning an additional C rather than using the time to upgrade PL to a B? The only other universities which offer PL for EN A's are the ones in Paris and London Met as far as I can tell. London requires a B and the two in Paris require 3 Cs.. this is all starting to look like a very long term project!

(17 May '14, 06:15) Kubb

You last comment sounds like the right path to take, but to answer you comment / question above I would say that one rare language gives you a competitive edge, two doesn't make you that much more competitive than one. ('Diminishing returns' I think the economists call it). However, then there is the question of usefulness. DE, PL and EL and you'll do most of your work from DE and be sitting around doing nothing a lot of the time (even if you are recruited). It also limits the number of meetings you can be usefully assigned to because those languages are not all going to be used at all meetings. DE FR and PL, or DE, IT and PL will be in pretty much every meeting in the EU.

(19 May '14, 13:23) Andy
showing 5 of 8 show 3 more comments

Kubb, which Polish university are you considering? At my university, all students were Polish As and all tutors but one (German) were Polish, too. From time to time, native speakers of students' B languages would come to the class to give some additional feedback on the B language performance but this is obviously nothing compared to the kind of feedback you can get if you are taught by conference interpreters who have English as their A. Gaspar is right that studying in a foreign environment could be quite counterproductive.

I don't know where you would like to work later on. If you are thinking about Poland, you definitely need a Polish B. I can imagine you could find a lot of work here, as there are very few native English conference interpreters in Poland so you would have a huge advantage. In the EU, on the other hand, from what I've heard it's very difficult to have Polish as your B. The Polish booth is very demanding as far as the quality of your Polish is concerned, and they are not used to non-native speakers so the expectations are (supposedly) higher than in the case of, let's say, English or German Bs. Plus, a retour is probably not very much needed in the English booth, with the exception of some odd consecutive assignments.

If you need any information about Polish universities or the interpreting market in Poland, feel free to ask and I will try to help you (as much as I can).

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answered 17 May '14, 15:50

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edited 17 May '14, 15:51

Hi Joanna, thanks for such a detailed answer. The university I was looking at was UJ in Kraków, which is where I currently study Polish full-time as a foreign language. As far as I am aware there are three universities in Poland which offer post-graduate training in conference interpreting: UW, UJ and UAM. However, although Warsaw is only member of the EMCI, it only teaches translating into PL A from other C languages, which naturally isn't suitable for me as an EN A, so that just leaves Kraków and Poznań. However, I imagine the situation is the same in both of those universities in that all the tutors are likely to all be Polish As.

Ideally I would like to stay in Poland for two reasons: I have only been seriously learning the language for just over a year, and although I am now at C1 level, and am pleased with my progress, I obviously need to spend more time in a Polish-speaking environment. Secondly, however, the course fees are pretty expensive in the UK and, although ESIT and ISIT are considerably cheaper, it means two years in Paris which won't be cheap. So I don't really know if I could afford it. Ideally it would be nice to study in Poland, work in Poland as a PL B, and then add other languages later and think about Brussels. Otherwise the next few years are going to have me moving to a new country to pratise as new language/study interpreting/find work every year or so, and I fear that may be quite an isolating existence - but perhaps that's what it takes.

Which university did you study at - would you rate the course there? And would you say the CI market in Poland is mostly Warsaw based, or are there opportunities in other cities such as Kraków? And of course, do you know if interpreting in Poland is particularly well paid? Thanks :)

(19 May '14, 11:38) Kubb

I would try to study at a school with an EN native-speaker who is also an interpreter on the teaching staff and regularly involved in your training. (Everyone will tell you it's the work into your mother tongue that will teach you how to interpret, so if you don't get that, you've got no hope into a B)

(19 May '14, 13:27) Andy

ps Kubb, a little tip from someone who also spent a couple of years in Cracow and at the UJ learning Polish. Get yourself the 2 tome PWN Inny Slownik Jezyka Polskiego. It's revolutionary for Poland (and hence little known amongst traditional philologians, of whom there are many) - based on a corpus, meanings ordered by frequency of use not etymology, explanations that are clear and examples of usage. Knocks all others dictionaries for 6 IMHO.

(20 May '14, 01:37) Andy

Thanks for the tip, Andy. I shall have a hunt on Allegro! And I completely take on board what you say about having native EN teaching staff: if you can't master interpreting into your mother tongue, then you've got nothing to build upon - I shall start looking into the courses in London and Paris. It's nice to hear from another EN speaker who's mastered Polish btw :) If you don't mind my asking, what path did you take (language/course-wise) to get into interpreting?

(20 May '14, 09:07) Kubb

Hi Kubb, my path was a little more conventional than yours. I did my degree in FR & DE and a couple of years after graduation I went back to the UK to study interpreting at Bath. (By then I'd spent a couple of years in Germany and several 3 month stints in France and you should reckon with long periods in both countries as well). I had also spent some time in Poland in the so I started learning Polish seriously a year or so after starting to work as an interpreter (and when it was already clear that Poland would eventually make its way into the EU). It's all a very long time ago now!
In Poland I did the UJ course for foreigners that you might be on, as well as a couple of their summer schools. I spent the best part of 2 years in Cracow. But of course if you're aiming at interpreting level you quickly get better than language classes in Poland can teach to. I listened to hours of TOK radio every day and I also sat in on a lot of interpreting classes there in exchange for my giving EN speeches and a bit of teaching. (You might offer your services as a speaker and make some useful contacts.) As my Polish got better I was also able to do a lot of interpreting practice from PL with the students without ever being formally enrolled in the interpreting school.

(20 May '14, 13:26) Andy

You guessed right, that's the same course I'm doing. One of my teachers said the very same thing yesterday as it happens - that these types of courses are only able to teach up to a certain level. Are you able to give any advice on how to really get to a high proficiency? I'm going to be teaching English in the autumn and was thinking of getting a private tutor (one of the ones from my current course actually) for a couple of hours a week, and then spending lots of time listening to the radio and reading literature etc. Contacting the interpreting dept. at UJ, like you did, is also something I shall look into. One final question with regards to interpreting: would you advise polishing up my German, doing a master's in London (I think it may be possible to do ACC at London Met), get accredited, and then improve and add French while already working. Or, wait a few more years, brush up French as well, and then do a master's, possibly in Paris, with an ACCC combination?

(22 May '14, 10:23) Kubb

Paris is definitely a very good choice. :-)

(22 May '14, 10:35) Gaspar ♦♦

Hi again Kubb,

I think there are cases for both London (or another UK school) and Paris. For example, if you go to London you might discover you don't like interpreting, or interpreting doesn't like you (!) without having spent a couple of years in France first - so time saved. On the other hand there aren't many schools better than Paris and the first thing they will tell you to do in Brussels is (go away and) learn French.

As for high-level language learning... well I spent a lot of time listening to the radio, talking to people and reading books and newspapers. I've collected other ideas for language learning that I've tried and tested here (if you'll excuse the immodesty of plugging my own book)

My two favourites are in the next comment (I've run out of space here...

(23 May '14, 04:29) Andy
  1. Read specialist magazines Buy specialist magazines (Aeroplanes today! Potholing weekly. Market gardeners' monthly. Trainspotter etc.) They will all have explanations of how things work as well as a good selection of semi-technical terminology. The most useful terms will be the ones that come up several times in one edition, look up and note these. Don't worry about terms that appear only once. Buy several specialist magazines on the same subject over a period of 3-6 months and the terminology and subjects that are repeated will give you a sound grounding in that subject area. This exercise will not only give you a broad range of vocabulary in semi-technical subjects but it may also help cultivate the curiosity that is important for interpreters. Read a few of this type of magazine and you may well find yourself developing an interest in areas you thought you would find boring!

  2. Learn by heart Learn by heart, and practise reciting, 2-4 lines of well written text in one of your active languages every day. Each day check that you still know all the texts from previous days. This may sound ambitious but it won't actually take more than 10 minutes per day and after a week you will find yourself using the new structures and expressions when you speak your B language. This exercise will contribute very quickly and effectively to improving your active language in at least 3 ways. Firstly by immediately moving entire phrases and secondly, collocation pairs from your passive to your active knowledge of a language. Thirdly, you can use the same syntactic constructions, which should be more stylish and interesting than those you can produce yourself, but substitute different content words

(23 May '14, 04:30) Andy

Brilliant, thanks for your advice, Andy :) and everyone else :)

(27 May '14, 17:31) Kubb

I studied at UAM (not STiJO, the other school). The course was of good quality (the English language part is better than the others, though) and it was free of charge (as opposed to the other UAM school, UJ and UW). I don't know how much better the best schools are (ESIT, ISIT etc.) but two EU-accredited interpreters from one class is not a bad outcome, and others might follow. The course is clearly targeted at Polish As, though, as the other courses in Poland are, so it is much more reasonable to study CI somewhere else. It doesn't mean CI classes in Poland would be of no use at all: I think Andy's suggestion to sit in on interpreting classes in exchange for your services as an English native speaker is a good one.

(07 Jun '14, 08:27) Joanna

Now a few words about the CI market in Poland (bear in mind that I am still just a young graduate in the process of getting established, and I keep on trying to understand the CI market myself :)). In my opinion, there is plenty of work outside of Warsaw but you do need to be ready to travel quite a bit. Despite the fact I get very little work in Warsaw, I make a living as a freelance interpreter (just a year ago, I would not have believed it was possible! I hope it's a long-term tendency, and not just some luck). I am obviously working on getting more assignments in Warsaw (after all, it is the capital were the biggest conferences take place) but I suppose it will take some time, as it's pretty hard to get some work when you are not recommended by Warsaw-based interpreters (as opposed to those who have graduated from the interpreting school in Warsaw). I don't know much about Cracow (another city where it is probably not easy for an outsider to have get established on the CI market, and it's too far away from my city anyway) but most importantly, I am convinced that you don't have to be Warsaw-based to work as a confeence interpreter in Poland. As far as the rates are concerned, they are pretty good although considerably lower than in the EU and, especially, in Germany. 200-250 euro per day, I would say, and more for assignments with no Polish (e.g. if you interpret from German into English).

(07 Jun '14, 08:28) Joanna
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question asked: 14 May '14, 04:13

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