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By 'active' language I mean 'A' or 'B' according to the aiic definition.

I've been playing around with the aiic directory and saw that most interpreters in the countries where there are many aiic interpreters have only one active language. But if you move to smaller countries, especially outside of Europe, there appears to be more interpreters with many active languages.

Is my observation borne out by statistics? If yes, does that reflect another 'breed' of interpreters? Is that in any way the result of a different market? And ultimately, what does it say about the quality and professionalism of those interpreters?

asked 12 Oct '11, 20:49

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

This question hasn't been getting the love it deserves. So I'm adding this comment to bump it up the home page again.

(26 Jan '12, 15:29) Vincent Buck

More specific information on what countries you are referring to would be helpful, but let me pick up on the bit of information you do mention, i.e. "especially outside of Europe," and relate it to your second question on different markets. When one thinks of Europe, two large institutional markets spring to mind - the EU and the UN. Both "reward" interpreters for having several passive languages. For work in the EU, an A accompanied by 3,4 or more passive languages is a good combination. The UN, with fewer working languages, still looks for an A with 2 or 3 passive languages for most booths. So what you saw in the directory in many western European countries will certainly be affected by this market demand.

National private sector markets, even in western Europe, will often "reward" interpreters for having at least two active languages as there are many 2-language conferences. If you look at Germany and France, for instance, I suspect you will find many A/B combinations, and again I think it is at least partly market driven. Interpreters will be more motivated to improve a non-native language to the point of making it into a valid B when they know that doing so will increase their marketability.

Now let's take a look at a part of the world far from Europe: Asia. National markets there are very much organized around 2-way booths, with the largest market usually being for local language A (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, etc.) with English B. Two-way booths are the rule, and training programs are organized around that market reality (and the fact that there are very few EN or other A's with either a B or C in an Asian language).

To sum up, I think what you describe is most likely a reflection of market demand. And I don't think that it reflects on either the quality or professionalism of interpreters. Colleagues with a double A or an A/B combination and those with an A/C,C C combination can offer the same degree of both quality and professionalism - or the lack of the same if it comes to that.

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answered 03 Feb '12, 16:48

Luigi's gravatar image


...;-) I hadn't seen it before, so thanks for bumping it up :-) and let me say flat out that I'm a double B into each of which I work out of my every other language (although of course mostly in retour situations involving my A + B<>B) so I've got three active languages.

My answer to the main question is as many as they can, wherein "can" stands for "are capable of" and capable means of course professionally capable. Even if one's market is all passives into national market active, it never hurts to have some of those passives actually be active; in present-day markets, I'd even go as far as to say that schools should insist on candidates normally having one retour (preferably EN) excepting exotic combinations and/or specific institutional markets.

I'm not sure I understand the references to different breeds and different levels of quality and professionalism, please elaborate :-).

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answered 27 Jan '12, 04:34

msr's gravatar image


edited 27 Jan '12, 08:35

Regarding the last question, I don't think it would be impossible to find combinations that were first shaped according to purely competency-based criteria, and then reshaped on the basis of market demand.

I may be wrong, but I think it is difficult to talk about this as a group trend, as quality and professionalism are very personal attributes which cannot be ascribed to any group in general.

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answered 03 Feb '12, 15:02

Richter's gravatar image


It depends where in the world you are and who you work for....

In Canadian Parliament for instance in Ottawa, parliamentary simultaneous interpreters are split between French>English and English>French. You work in the respective booth according to your mother tongue, although it isn't abnormal for those interpreters to switch booths if they're completely bilingual. In Canada's west coast city Vancouver, simultaneous interpretation is most often freelance and allocated according to when multilingual conferences are held. Interpreters hired thus are almost always expected to work into and from the A and B languages in order to cut down on overall costs.

Consecutive interpreters also respectively work bidirectionally. Only major institutions with multiple languages employ mono-directional interpreters; in which case, usually a minimum of two C languages and one A language is expected of you. European Union interpreters tend to (although not always) interpret from multple related C languages (i.e. Danish, Swedish, German; Italian, Spanish, Portuguese etc.) because they are easier to acquire if one already knows a sister language.

I should note that in the UN, Arabic and Chinese interpreters work bidirectionally with English and/or French. To my knowledge, none of the English, French, Russian, or Spanish interpreters have Chinese or Arabic as a C language. Interpreters (and translators) of Asian and Middle Eastern languages most often work both directions by default because so few Westerners have such a language in their repertoire.

In sum, if you are freelance you need a B language. If you wish to increase marketability, add a C language or a second B language. If you are aiming for a major insitution, an A language and 2 to 3 C languages are sufficient, I believe.

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answered 29 Mar '12, 20:38

jdecamillis's gravatar image


edited 10 Apr '12, 15:26


Ooops, I misspelled multiple.

(10 Apr '12, 16:07) jdecamillis

(Somewhere in a courthouse near you...)

PLAINTIFF: We had an oral agreement! He said he would pay me 1500 CHF and not 500 CHF.

JUDGE: Did you say you would pay him 1500 CHF?


The moral of the story? Get written contracts.

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answered 21 Feb '12, 13:39

Jonathan's gravatar image


Let me comment on another outlying market: South America. Here the rule is retour and most of the work is two way Spanish-English. So most interpreters have an A in Spanish and B in English and some have additional select Cs. Whenever there are three languages and the organizer is not prepared to pay for air travel and perdiem of foreign interpreters with the required combination, then we have two two-way booths with relay of the third language. What is also becoming prevalent in the private market is to have N-1 meetings: either the English or the Spanish booth disappear, the latter most often...

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answered 22 Feb '12, 16:43

Vicky%20Massa's gravatar image

Vicky Massa

How does South America deal with more exotic language combinations with Spanish, i.e. Chinese, Swedish, Arabic, Greek----provided the odd need for such showed up?

(10 Apr '12, 16:10) jdecamillis

Imagine that for us French is an almost 'exotic' language... One of our younger members needed 5 years to complete the requisite 150 days in order to join AIIC. There are some exotic languages interpreters in Brazil and most Embassies have their own interpreters for their languages... When Arabic, Russian or Chinese are needed, they are hired in North America, Europe or Asia...

(11 Apr '12, 08:56) Vicky Massa
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question asked: 12 Oct '11, 20:49

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last updated: 11 Apr '12, 11:34

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