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I would like to add a C language because I find my combination lacking A.French B English C Chinese (useless, apparently). I'm thinking the sooner, the better as I still have 3+years before passing any exam entrance to ESIT's CI master (if everything goes smoothly...). I have a little basis of spanish, and it's close to my native language, easier to learn, but I fear it will be neither marketable nor in demand for international organisations... On the other hand learning russian from scratch seems incredibly demanding and will probably take a decade or so...

Any insight from those who happen to have this kind of combination ?

asked 17 Nov '15, 09:50

Juliette's gravatar image


Hello Juliette,

I am impressed with your advanced planning!

It is true that, unless your Chinese is active, it will be of very little use to you. All private market work, and some international organization work, requires an A<>B combination - most especially with exotic languages. Moreover, in the international organization context, it is hugely difficult for a non-Chinese A to get work.

The UN and other IOs are indeed users of both Russian and Spanish. Russian is much rarer among interpreters, so is sought after. But it will take a long time to learn it to a high standard, and once you are hired as the russisant in the booth, it is either feast or famine. I have worked entire meetings where the Russian speakers spoke the entire time (rare, but still...), and (many more) where they didn't say a word, or at least not in Russian. And then when they do speak, it is to monitor every sound out of your mouth. Granted, you are a French A and they tend to monitor the English, but if at that moment you are the only person on the team with Russian (your colleague in the EN booth having stepped out for a bathroom break), then it is you through the English booth who is being monitored. Russian would also be harder to keep up at a good level.

Spanish will be easier to learn, though you should not fall into the trap of thinking it is easy. You will have to avoid many more traps to keep your French sounding native. And it is a language spoken by very many countires, and slightly differently in each of them. Spanish is also not rare, so you will have much more competition to find work, and you will have to be very good at both interpreting and the professional skills of networking, marketing, etc. However, the FR-EN-ES combination is not rare because there are markets for it. Every NGO out there uses these languages, as well as every IO, and if your EN is a B then you won't have to worry so much, as that is where you will get much of your work from.

To give an example of one market I know well, Washington DC, you would be able to work in A<>B for the US Dept of State, the World Bank, the IMF, and the private market; in (ES) C and B>A you could also work for the IADB, PAHO, and the OAS. Of course you will have a lot of competition. If you had a Russian C, none of the latter organizations would be open to you unless they had a strictly FR<>EN meeting, though if the UN in NY or ICAO in Montreal are hiring from outside those cities, you may get work from them. And you would have no competition, because most of the Russian in the US is interpreted biactively into English by native speakers of Russian. I realize you most probably won't go to the US to work, but the same dynamic holds true in Geneva.

There is a new development in the UN world, where the treaty bodies may now limit themselves to only 3 languages of their choice, instead of holding meetings in all 6 UN languages. This means many of these bodies will stop using Russian, as Russian-speaking countries do not play a large role in the topic of that treaty. Spanish may then end up being more sought after than in the past. Of course, if you were to have both Spanish and Russian, then the UN world would be your oyster!

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answered 18 Nov '15, 05:28

JuliaP's gravatar image


Thank you for your elaborate answer. I'm planning quite ahead indeed, as i want to give myself time to build strong language basis and general knowledge.

Reading your comment, Spanish seems the most reasonable option to me ; I can't afford the energy and time required for Russian (though I'm aware Spanish won't be a piece of cake either). It may be less sought after but the fact that it's more common is also an advantage of sorts.

One more question : I've read that the Chinese market seeks European languages combinations, would mine be useful there ? I could simultaneously work on my Chinese and gain experience.

(18 Nov '15, 07:14) Juliette

I don't know the Chinese market well at all, but what I can say is not to bite off more than you can chew. You are already making English a B, and adding a new C. Make sure that the languages you will move forward with are very very solid, not only linguistically but culturally. You could also see this question here:

(18 Nov '15, 07:23) JuliaP

Oh yes, of course. I'm not planning this in the near future. If I make it in 10 years i'll consider myself lucky. For the coming years I'll be staying in Europe, happily treading water ;)

(18 Nov '15, 07:30) Juliette

I'm also considering China for personal reasons (Chinese husband)..i was wondering if I happened to settle there would there be job opportunities.

(18 Nov '15, 07:33) Juliette

Irrelevant post: I am surprised to see you seeking to marry a man from my country. That's a rare sight for Chinese. ;)

Somewhat relevant: It's perfectly possible to work in China provided that you have a Chinese B, as revealed in some posts by William White (who has worked in China until earlier this year) and AIIC directory (I suppose). French A is a rare asset in China, which gives you a natural advantage against a bunch of Chinese A students who usually don't start learning French before college.

I personally am also torned between French and Japanese, also a your-money-or-your-passion dilemma. My tactic is...learning them both! May the one works for me in the end win.;)

(18 Nov '15, 09:53) EliChang

you'd be surprised how many women are looking for Chinese boyfriends/husbands. As for me, well, once I heard the praises sung about 上海男人, I knew I had to keep mine (and I don't regret it one bit).

More seriously, my Chinese is certainly not at a B level right now, but I hope I'll be able to raise it to that level once I've spent 5+ years in China, and worked hard enough for it.

I admire your courage; learning two incredibly difficult (and different) languages at the time would have me sobbing like a baby. Hope you'll reach your goals ;)

(18 Nov '15, 12:40) Juliette

Julia, regarding the new developement in the UN world, are you saying that, in the coming years, Russian C will be completely useless? If yes, why are students told so many times that Russian C is crucial if they want to aim at the UN?

(18 Nov '15, 12:58) Sophie

Il y a deux facteurs à prendre en compte : la demande et la concurrence.

Pour le russe C, la demande est, pour l'heure, élevée et la concurrence presque inexistante.

Même si la demande peut changer, ça restera une langue C avec peu de diplômés, et c'est aujourd'hui la seule langue C qui, combinée à l'anglais C, offre un débouché.

Toutes les autres combinaisons ACC en cabine française souffrent soit d'une concurrence trop élevée, soit d'une demande trop faible, souvent les deux.

(18 Nov '15, 16:51) Gaspar ♦♦

Hello Sophie, no, I am not saying Russian will be completely useless. I am saying that Spanish might be just a bit more needed than now, while Russian will still be needed for a smaller number of treaty bodies that use Russian, but still for all the other working groups, plenaries, meetings etc. that it has been needed for all along. We (English booth freelancers) are thrilled to see new colleagues with Russian, so please definitely keep it up and get into the UN circuit!

(18 Nov '15, 16:51) JuliaP

Thank god! Thank you both for your replies!

(19 Nov '15, 13:31) Sophie
showing 5 of 10 show 5 more comments

FR A, EN B, RU C : profil marché privé (EN B) et ONU (RU C). Le russe est très demandé en ce moment et l'offre est limitée.

FR A, EN B, ES C : profil marché privé uniquement. ES C est trop commun et il faut être incroyablement bon pour avoir droit tout au plus à quelques miettes à l'ONU.

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answered 17 Nov '15, 11:33

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Réponses toujours aussi pertinentes et utiles. Merci beaucoup.

(17 Nov '15, 12:40) Juliette
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question asked: 17 Nov '15, 09:50

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