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I'd be interested if someone could explain the importance of an A-B combination as opposed to a B-B combination in bidirectionally interpreted languages. I understand this is a European standard, but does it have application in Asia?

asked 23 Feb '16, 19:06

Adrian%20Lee%20Dunbar's gravatar image

Adrian Lee D...

converted 24 Feb '16, 03:45

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

In international organizations, it is required to have an A language (as well as a B and/or several Cs), because they presume that their delegates would rather hear native speakers of their own language than someone working into a non-native language, no matter how good it is. The idea is that interpreters should understand their other languages very well, and therefore know how to express any nuance in their own native language, being able to manipulate it much more flexibly. It is fairly constant that, no matter how good the B, the B language interpreter is always a touch wordier than a native speaker would have been, as they didn't grow up using or knowing all the language's resources; for the same reason, the delegate would end up having to do a bit of the B language interpreter's work to understand the message, due to different word choices, accent, or even just the music or rhythm of the language.

In ministries of foreign affairs, they tend to work the other way, asking the interpreter to work from their A language into their B, because the interpreter would have truly understood every nuance of what was said by the country's delegate, and then would be able to express it in the foreign language - even if the grammar or word choices are not those of a native speaker.

On the private market and some other venues where interpreters work biactively (between two languages), there are interpreters who work from all their languages (their native A and their passive C) into their B language, and there are others who only work A<>B and never C>B. And there are interpreters with 2 B languages, who can work B<>B with very little quality lost. But these interpreters tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Personally, I think that interpreter training has to be done with an A language and either a B and a C, or several Cs. If one never trains into one's best language, one will never see how far that language is from being a real interpreting language (think of all the people you know who make lots of mistakes or have a very limited vocabulary in their native language - interpreters cannot allow ourselves this luxury). One will also never understand all the manipulations and flexibility required to take an idea from a non-native culture and enculturate it completely in the native language. So, while B<>B in some venues would be acceptable, it is not something I would train someone in who is just acquiring their interpreting skills.

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answered 24 Feb '16, 13:41

JuliaP's gravatar image


edited 26 Feb '16, 20:04

Back in the (golden) day(s of interpreting), people would only work into their A, from their C languages.

B languages were the exception, for pairs that couldn't be otherwise covered.

Nowadays, as clients are reluctant to pay for two full booths rather than one biactive, Bs tend to become more widely used.

To master the art of interpreting and to be able to perform at an adequate level, you need an extremely good command of your main active language. Hence the requirement of an A language.

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answered 24 Feb '16, 03:48

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

Other than what my learned colleagues write, let me add my grain of salt - my combination is ABBCC and I do work into all my three actives out of all of my languages: all the more so if it involves my weaker B, working B<>B as opposed to A<>B requires extra effort both by way of preparation (my vocabulary is of course widest in my A language and I'm most at ease with concepts and shades of meaning in that language) and of production, ie extra care is required into B to ensure precision.

I'm unclear as to whether your query covers not having an A-language at all: this would exclude aiic membership, inasmuch as aiic requires such a language in all combinations.

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answered 26 Feb '16, 10:51

msr's gravatar image


edited 26 Feb '16, 15:57

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question asked: 23 Feb '16, 19:06

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