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Hello all!

I am a native English speaker and hold an undergraduate degree in French, German and Spanish. I am hoping to do a conference interpreting course in the next year and would like to know which two C languages I should choose, as most courses teach interpreting out of two C languages, not three.

Any help would be much appreciated!

Many thanks!


asked 15 Jan '15, 13:00

Phil1980's gravatar image


edited 15 Jan '15, 16:40

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦

FR & DE. No competition. Interpreting from DE is an art in itself so it's worth doing it with a teacher. It probably offers the best career prospects too.

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answered 16 Jan '15, 07:17

Andy's gravatar image


Hi Phil,

I would say that you definitely need to study French on your MA because in Brussels it’s the most spoken language after English. Imagine that you are talented and lucky enough to pass the EU accreditation exam, but with Spanish and German (this happens). Of course, you can apply to take an adding test for French, but you might not necessarily be granted one immediately. So it would be quite frustrating to be in the English booth and not to be able to interpret the French that is being spoken, especially as in my experience French is not only spoken by French native speakers in an EU context. Occasionally, if their native tongue is not covered in a meeting,(older) Portuguese speakers, Italians, and Romanian delegates have all been known to speak French. (I’m speaking from my own experience in Brussels.) The other day I even interpreted a Bulgarian MEP, Mariya Gabriel, who spoke flawless French, which I was not expecting! So French in my eyes is a must.

FR/SP allows you to apply for both EU and UN exams, but the language combination is not particularly sought after. So FR/DE might be a more useful initial combination.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Gaspar that an interpreting degree just teaches you technique and that the same technique can be applied to all C languages. You learn a lot of vocab for each individual language and the technique for each language varies.

Let me explain.

-One of the EU interpreters visiting my university called German ‘the Prince of interpreting languages’ and I think he’s right: interpreting German teaches you to really hold back, hones your anticipation skills, and really gets you to search for the meaning underpinning what the speaker is saying. So for me German was a really useful language to have in my combination when learning interpreting technique. I find Spanish interpreting, for instance, requires a slightly different approach.

-Although an interpreting degree is not a language course by any means, even those students with very deep knowledge of their languages will learn a lot of new vocabulary. There were so many words that I picked up in my German interpreting classes that perhaps I should have known because of my undergrad degree, but didn’t, and which I learnt through interpreting. Sure, when you interpret you’re conveying meaning and don’t need to know every word but having a wide vocabulary sure as hell helps! So it really to constantly be in touch with all your C languages.

My advice is therefore quite direct and would be: unless your German is by far your weakest language, sign up for Fd/De. First things first though: It goes without saying that you need to be pretty sure that you are good enough to pass the entrance test with this combination!

HOWEVER, if you are selected by the school, are really motivated and think you can balance the workload, ask the Spanish trainer at your school if you can audit the Spanish classes. You could say, obviously I’m not asking you to devote class time to me because that would take away time from those who are doing Spanish officially, but if there are enough booths I would appreciate sitting in on the class. As consec is sometimes practised in pairs, you’ll also get to have a crack at Spanish consec; plus you’ll be in contact with Spanish, which I mentioned was important. Obviously this is contingent on the Spanish teacher allowing you to attend the class. But the worse she can do is say no. At the same time you have to be careful of taking on too much: can you keep your A language strong while juggling three Cs?

All of this is my very subjective advice, but I hope it helps. At the end of the day, though, you’re the one making the decision, so good luck, and do what’s right for you.

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answered 16 Jan '15, 06:46

Eric's gravatar image


Imagine that you are talented and lucky enough to pass the EU accreditation exam, but with Spanish and German (this happens). Of course, you can apply to take an adding test for French, but you might not necessarily be granted one immediately. So it would be quite frustrating to be in the English booth and not to be able to interpret the French that is being spoken

If one fills out the application for the accreditation, indicating all 3 C languages, any of these languages can be tested on day one. Not only the 2 that were taught during the course. And if FR is more needed than ES, it's likely that FR will be tested first.

(16 Jan '15, 07:40) Gaspar ♦♦

Yes, absolutely, sorry I was unclear. Assuming Phil were to present with all three of course.

(16 Jan '15, 08:55) Eric

I think the colleagues above have given you excellent advice in terms of job prospects. However, I would offer a word of caution: never disregard the importance of your own personal preferences and experience. Pick languages and cultures that you enjoy and have a strong affinity with, and hone your technique to get up to the required professional level.

In my experience, competent, professional, and nice colleagues always end up finding more than enough work, even when they have a very common language combination. Play nice, study hard, and be kind. Le reste ça vient tout seul ! Bon courage !

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answered 16 Jan '15, 12:20

Anyuli%20In%C3%A1cio%20Da%20Silva's gravatar image

Anyuli Ináci...

No one can really give you a clear answer to that, since personal preferences and choices play an important role in this decision. What kind of ties (emotional, cultural, professional) do you have to these languages? Which one do you like the best?

It is also important to bear in mind that many interpreters now have multiple Cs, and having as many strong passive languages as possible can only be an asset to your career. If possible, consider working with all three?

In terms of work in the Brussels market, passive German and French would be VERY interesting to potential institutional employers. Passive French and Spanish would be more useful in American markets, or for the United Nations. Best of luck!

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answered 15 Jan '15, 16:19

Anyuli%20In%C3%A1cio%20Da%20Silva's gravatar image

Anyuli Ináci...

Assuming you have a C-language level in all your foreign languages, the choice won't matter (that) much. Interpreting schools only teach you the interpreting techniques, which you can apply to all of your C languages, even if they aren't part of your degree.

Nevertheless, it wouldn't be unwise to make sure the languages which will be mentioned on your diploma meet the needs of your prospective markets and region.

With three Cs, you'd have good chances with the EU institutions. Only 2 Cs and no Russian for the UN would put you in a weaker situation.

So, if the EU is what you're aiming for, DE & FR would be more of a priority, but you should also practice your ES so that you can add that language very soon after starting to work.

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answered 16 Jan '15, 04:32

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

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question asked: 15 Jan '15, 13:00

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