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I'm a native Chinese speaker studying science at a U.S. college. I just started looking into the CI career and doing research on training programs. I would be a Chinese A, English B, and as for what to do as a C language, I'm not sure. My question is, as an interpreter, how often do you take up works involving your C language, and how well do you need to master it? I have some background in Japanese, and tiny French and German, but I heard from my friend that if I want to work at places like the UN, it's better to study one of the UN languages, and especially French, for it's widely used and many of the legal documents are written in French. Is that really the case?

Can I also have some recommendations on solid training programs? I heard MIIS is really good. Somehow it seems to me that British training programs like the ones in Bath and Newcastle are more popular among the Chinese applicants I know. How are British training programs compared to US programs like MIIS? I also have some interest in the CI program at SISU, shanghai. It seems like a more rigorous program than Beiwai/BFSU, but is it like rumor says that after Mr. Dawrant left the program, the teaching became not as good?

Thank you so much.

asked 06 Feb '15, 02:42

Xiaoxuan's gravatar image


edited 14 Feb '15, 04:08

Nacho's gravatar image

Nacho ♦

Xiao Xuan,

There are really two markets: either Chinese-English bothways on your local market; or a chinese booth at the UN with -ideally- as many C languages as possible, in order to interpret from those into Chinese without having to use relay. At the UN, whenever Chinese is spoken in the room, you must also provide a "retour" (usually into English). So, you definitely need more than 2 languages in your combination to work at the UN. French is a must and Spanish would be a great asset, as there are very few Chinese professionals with both English and Spanish in their combination.

Re. which training program to choose for a future Chinese booth, check other questions in this Forum as we have already provided advice on the subject. Good luck!

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answered 07 Feb '15, 14:59

Danielle's gravatar image


(07 Feb '15, 15:01) Danielle

Thank you for the advice, Danielle!

(07 Feb '15, 17:28) Xiaoxuan

Hi Danielle: I'm a bit confused. When I have worked at the UN or UN sponsored events with ZH booth (and perhaps I have just been unlucky?), the colleagues only have English, and provide retours with varying degrees of quality. The only Chinese interpreters with French and English, that I personally know, are those that trained with me in France. Of course, this doesn't mean that they don't exist. I'm just saying that it doesn't seem to me like French is necessary to work in the Chinese booth at the UN.

(09 Feb '15, 10:51) Anyuli Ináci...

Hi Anyuli, It does depend where you work - at Unesco, the Chinese interpreters mostly work into French, whereas in the US it's English... What I have noticed (using those consoles that show who is on relay) is that unless the interpreter has French as well as English, they will end up working sometimes on double relay, for example taking the Spanish from the floor through the French booth into my English, and then into Chinese (/Arabic/Russian...).

(16 Feb '15, 07:02) JuliaP

Woah, mind warp! That's a lot of relays, haha!

(16 Feb '15, 21:28) Anyuli Ináci...

Hi Anyuli, there are not many Chinese interpreters with 2 or 3 passive languages, so obviously bilingual Chinese interpreters also get recruited. But any chief-interpreter will logically avoid double-relay, if at all possible, and will give preference to those Chinese interpreters who have more passive languages. This is certainly standard on the private market.

(17 Feb '15, 12:53) Danielle
showing 5 of 6 show 1 more comments

... good question :-). One's target language is of paramount importance, for any speaker... one's source language is of equally paramount importance (irrespective of whether A, B or C) for any interpreter whose job it is to convey meaning across languages (and cultures) for whose purpose understanding the source message (!) is of the essence :-). As to "how well" one needs to master (albeit passively) said source message (which does include the language it's expressed in) the only possible answer is "perfectly" or, in this base world of ours, "as best as one possibly can", having put into it one's best (long term) professional effort.

For the UN, your present combination (if at all acceptable?) would put you at a competitive disavantage vis-à-vis colleagues with one or more C languages... and FR would of course be the best choice, German or Japanese not being UN languages; I don't think that these days there would still be many UN documents, if any, legal or otherwise, available only in FR and not EN... if anything, rather the opposite. In other markets, namely domestic, your present combination would probably suffice for a professional career (always remembering that competition is fiercest in that combination) but one can never have too many trump cards :-).

I'll leave your question on schools and training for other better qualified colleagues to answer, good luck :-).

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answered 06 Feb '15, 05:34

msr's gravatar image


edited 06 Feb '15, 18:02

Thank you for the reply (^o^)/ Really appreciate your explanation of the target and source languages! I'm trying to decide which language to add to my combination, and it's a hard decision for me because I understand it's like trying to decide which dimension of the world you would enter and explore for the rest of your life. I guess I got confused about the importance of C languages because when I looked up videos of the UN interpreters, it looks like interpreters in the Chinese booth just interpret from and into ZH <> EN (or ZH <>FR) all the time. I know that many interpreters interpret into one language from multiple languages, and I'm wondering if for Chinese it's always two way or if there are one way interpreting work around too.

Is it okay for me to ask you another general question on choosing training programs? Is it better to go to training programs located at the market where you want to work in the future? If so, does it make a big advantage?

Thanks a lot!

(07 Feb '15, 02:11) Xiaoxuan

Hi Xiaoxuan, it is always better to study in a school that has good contacts in the market in which you are planning to work, but it doesn't necessarily have to be physically located there. For example, I know that Bath has good contacts and internships (at least for the EN booth - I don't really know about their Chinese program), and I have run into a lot of their EN booth interpreters in Brussels, Geneva,...

(16 Feb '15, 07:09) JuliaP

The Chinese booth in the United Nations works into Chinese with a retour into English. You don't NEED French to work there. However, it is nice to have it, since you'll be able to follow what's going on better, talk to more people, and read more documents. Also, beyond the UN, having French will open up many professional opportunities. On a different note, the Chinese booth interpreters are not recruited like interpreters for other booths in the UN, so you might want to do a bit of research on the requirements for this process.

I do not have Chinese in my combination, but as far as I know MIIS has an excellent reputation for its Chinese program. The University of Maryland also has a good Chinese program.

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answered 07 Feb '15, 07:37

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

Anyuli Ináci...


Many thanks for the info!

(07 Feb '15, 08:24) Xiaoxuan

Hello Xiaoxuan,

I just wanted to let you know that there is a new program in the US to train Chinese<>English interpreters, on the East coast and very close to Washington, DC, so near another type of market than what is available on the West coast. Check out for the University of Maryland program. It's only been around for a couple of years, but judging from their director this year, it should be moving in the right direction!

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answered 25 Feb '15, 16:23

JuliaP's gravatar image


Thank you for letting me know! I'll definitely check it out =)

(25 Feb '15, 19:46) Xiaoxuan

Most of this has already been answered, but I can confirm that Andrew Dawrant is no longer part of the teaching staff at SISU in Shanghai. He remains (highly) active as a freelance interpreter based in Shanghai.

I trained at SISU while he was still there. He was excellent, inspiring and pushed people further than they'd otherwise have gone. I can't speak for what things are like there now, as I graduated back in 2007. What it is possible to say is that Beiwai / BFSU have much larger intakes, and you get much less attention from the instructors, even though Beiwai is very well-known generally and thus often gets good students coming in ... after which they more or less have to rely on themselves. Good programmes in East Asia with restricted, small intakes, apart from SISU, are UIBE (Beijing), NTNU (Taipei), Fu Jen (Taipei) and possibly NTU (Taipei).

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answered 26 Mar '15, 09:36

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William White

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question asked: 06 Feb '15, 02:42

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