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I'm currently a sophomore student in mainland China and considering a interpreter as my future career.I understand the importance of having a C language in my language combination. But my trouble is to find a both prospective and practical one for me. Here's where I stand:

  • Only 2 C language courses were provided in our school(non-foreign-study school, meaning it's not language training centered), and that is RUS or JPN.Limited as the effect of course is, it can still help me through the toddling phase.If I go for FRA, that basically means I had to figure out the whole thing by myself.
  • I intend to apply for schools in (and probably stay in) either U.K or U.S.,where only possible C language option is C → English
  • As a native Chinese speaker, JPN is relatively easy for me since it's from the same family of Chinese.But I heard that JPN → ENG barely has no market.

So what do you think I should choose?

*Additional question: Besides attending a school program, is there any other way for me to get my C language skill developed and certificated? Is it possible for me to start out with A ↔ B and later add C into my language combination?

asked 18 Feb '15, 00:44

EliChang's gravatar image


edited 20 Feb '15, 06:41

Nacho's gravatar image

Nacho ♦

Hello! To answer your last question first, of course you can start with just an A<>B combination and add a C language later. Many interpreters do, though you would end up having to replicate much of what you do in interpreting school on your own, which is hard if you don't have the discipline.

Now to your markets: if you are planning on staying in the US or UK to work, most of the work is on the private market, so A<>B, and only rarely involves a C language. I have no idea what the Chinese market is like in either of those countries, so you would have to do your market research to decide where you would get the most work, and hence where to pick a school!

If you move to the East coast, you will become more eligible for the UN, which also requires a retour into a B, but not necessarily a C. If you do add a C, then for the UN it would have to be French. Not all Chinese interpreters have a C language, so you would stand out a bit if you offered that.

There is a market for Jpn<>En in the US and the UK, though I don't know how large. However, no matter how similar it is to Chinese, you would be working from one foreign language to another, something that I don't recommend a beginner learning or starting out with.

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answered 18 Feb '15, 12:43

JuliaP's gravatar image


Thank you JuliaP. You're being very helpful. So, I understand now many interpreters start with AB and then add a C by self-training. But how do they get their C language skill ACCREDITED OR RECOGNIZED? By taking test or something like that? If they go through the procedure by themselves, how do they find opportunities to really PRACTICE it? Or do they just count on their experience from working with A and B and start working with C right away?

(19 Feb '15, 01:40) EliChang

In my case, I studied hard, started adding my C language to my vocabulary lists, practiced on my own (there is a thread on how to add a C language). When I felt I was ready, I told one employer, with whom I have worked many times and knew the topics inside out. After I worked there successfully a few times, I started letting other employers know. After I acquired my requisite 50 days, I asked for signatures, and added my C to my AIIC profile. If one isn't in AIIC, it just depends on you, and if your clients and colleagues are satisfied with your work. As most countries do not have official accreditation for interpreters, we have to depend on our own integrity and on national associations.

(19 Feb '15, 06:18) JuliaP

Thank you again. Much appreciated.

(19 Feb '15, 09:12) EliChang

To come back a bit to the definitions: a C language is nothing to do with language training. When you start your interpreter training, you already have to have an extremely good-to-perfect understanding of the language in question. You don't get taught the language - you get taught how to interpret from it.

Nearly all professional conference interpreters with Chinese have a Chinese A, English B or Chinese A, French B combination. C languages are quite rare. It's just the way the market is. You don't need to have a C, but you will find yourself working bidirectionally (into your B language, as well as out of it) nearly all the time. I call this a "2-way booth" but others may call it a "cabine bi-active".

The other type of interpreter profile you commonly see is someone with one A and several Cs. This is standard (and necessary) if you're working eg. at the EU institutions. So you might meet someone with (real example) Finnish A, and English, French, Spanish, Italian and Swedish Cs. This kind of profile is extremely rare for interpreters who have Chinese - I can think of only one example, and it's that of a colleague with French A and several Cs including Chinese.

A C language can be a benefit, though, and it's not true to say that there's no market for Japanese-> English, even if most of the demand is Japanese <> English. However, as a Chinese A you would not be the ideal profile for this - when you work from C into B you have to be very disciplined and aware of your limitations.

I would recommend that you first consider when and where to train as an interpreter, and if the profession is right for you. Once you get down that road, you can consider adding a C language later. It's fun!

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answered 23 Feb '15, 12:45

William%20White's gravatar image

William White

Hello William White,

I know it is not related to the topic, but could I quickly ask you if Chinese C for your colleague with French A is useful for him or not ? (as I have often read that chinese becomes useful only as a B language).

(25 Feb '15, 04:43) Thomas

I have a follow up question with regards to this comment:

"Nearly all professional conference interpreters with Chinese have a Chinese A, English B or Chinese A, French B combination. C languages are quite rare. It's just the way the market is. You don't need to have a C, but you will find yourself working bidirectionally (into your B language, as well as out of it) nearly all the time. I call this a "2-way booth" but others may call it a "cabine bi-active"."

If you are an English A / Chinese B, is the usual expectation to work mono-directionally or bi-directionally? I keep hearing that working from your B language into your A language is ideal in theory, so this has been my assumption, though I also do hear a lot about the bidirectional English A.

(25 Feb '15, 20:50) Adrian Lee D...

Firstly: the colleague with Chinese C does use it from time to time, she's in an institutional context where most of her work is from other languages into French A, occasionally Chinese comes up in this or that meeting and she doesn't have to take relay, so yes, it is useful - and depending on the quality of the relay the "Chinese booth" is providing, other booths may choose to take relay from her when it's available.

Secondly: bidirectionally, with very few exceptions. Unless you're in-house at an embassy or consulate in China, in which case most of your work will be from A into B - that's just how things are there, long story to do with who the message "belongs" to.

(26 Feb '15, 07:40) William White

Your comments again are very helpful! I did spot the State Department interpreter Jim Brown on TV standing behind Xi Jinping apparently to interpret for Obama come to think of it.

I've never actually seen an English A / Chinese B interpreter at work, except on a few recordings on the internet. Could you tell me the value your 'A'-level command of English brings to the Chinese interpretation booth? (that it's highly valued is well known, but I know little about the actual dynamics)

As always your insights are highly appreciated.

(27 Feb '15, 18:09) Adrian Lee D...

Not something I've ever thought much about, as we all do more or less the same job in that booth, but it's clear that there've got to be pros and cons in there somewhere. Other booths sometimes find it easier to take relay output when it's an A for the "pivot" (colleague giving relay), though really this is a question more of accent and various other psycholinguistic things so I don't know how valid the point really is.

By definition it's easier to express yourself going into A. Seeing as my colleagues and I all work in both directions, that tends to even out!

(28 Feb '15, 15:41) William White
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question asked: 18 Feb '15, 00:44

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