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what's the best language combination with italian?
Thread poster: sabra83

Italian to English
Aug 24, 2007

Hi, I am a 24-year-old Italian student in interpreting and my language combination at present is Italian English French.
I know that nowdays it is not enough so I was considering studying another language. I 've heard that the languages sought after within the EU 's institutions are eastern european languages. However if I had to follow my own taste I 'd rather study chinese or spanish or portuguese. So I really don't know which way to go... Please someone help me out!!!


biankonera  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:00
Italian to Latvian
+ ...
whatever you prefer Aug 24, 2007

Id say there is no such thing as the best language for a combination with another language, however the more rare the combination is the better for a translator/interpreter because you can have something like a monopoly in that combination. So Id say if you want to study another language in order to work with it later go for something that is rare. I think you can use Proz freelancer directory in order to see what languages have less freelancers in combination with italian and then decide what language you want to learn.
Hope this helps.:)


Rui de Carvalho  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:00
English to Portuguese
+ ...
the best language Aug 24, 2007

Not knowing the interpreting marketing I was tempted to suggest Portuguese, naturally, the nicer language in the world only second to Italian. Yet it is spoken by a mere 200 million or so, and Chinese almost ten times more... So, I just call your attention to the fact that you'll need several years to learn Chinese for interpretation purposes while Portuguese (or Spanish for that matter), with Italian as mother language, you can learn it in several weeks.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
Learning another language? Aug 24, 2007

The key to succcess in translating is a profound knowledge of the languages you work with. It is not a matter of looking out there and saying, "jeez, it looks like the market might be great for Slovak, I think I'll learn that and then start translating".

Forget about learning languages in a few weeks; that just doesn't happen. You'll be competing with native speakers who've spoken these languages all their lives.

Strive for competence by building on what you already know.

In Spanish we say, "el que mucho abarca poco aprieta".


Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:00
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Why not enough? Aug 24, 2007

sabra83 wrote:

I know that nowdays it is not enough

Sorry, but who says that three languages are not enough? Most translators and interpreters work in just one language combination, even when they know other languages.

If I were you I would concentrate on studying in depth the languages you do know, and start to consider (if you don't know already) which (few) subject areas you want to specialize in.

I would leave the study of further languages for later.


Henrik Pipoyan  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:00
Member (2004)
English to Armenian
Consider a minor language Aug 24, 2007

All your languages are major languages. For diversity consider mastering a minor language. There isn't as much demand in minor languages, as there is in major languages, but neither are there many translators. So apart from learning another language this will give you an additional benefit of being a "rare" specialist.


Anne Patteet  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:00
English to French
+ ...
I agree with Riccardo Aug 25, 2007

Riccardo Schiaffino wrote:
Sorry, but who says that three languages are not enough? ...
If I were you I would concentrate on studying in depth the languages you do know, and start to consider (if you don't know already) which (few) subject areas you want to specialize in.
I would leave the study of further languages for later.

I would also say that rather than learning another language, it would be better to try to know which subjects you really like and specialize in those. We often are asked to show or demonstrate our experience in a field, like for instance medicine, IT, chemistry, sports, law, journalism, automotive, environment or anything elso you can imagine.
You can read, take courses, attend seminars,... and then you can market yourself to direct clients who need someone specialized in their kind of business, not someone who can speak five languages (not that it's bad, of course).

Good luck!


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:00
Flemish to English
+ ...
E.U. dream or Walk the Talk. Aug 25, 2007

Ah, that old E.U.-dream that lured me into a translation school instead of studying law.
First of all have a look at:
A bit off-topic:
A further series of freelance tests in Bulgaria is foreseen at the end of March 2007 for which there are currently 155 applications.

A further series of freelance tests in Romania is foreseen in early March 2007 for which there are currently 455 applications.

I did not know that there were so many interpreters at EMCI-level (the benchmark) available for those languages.

I'm faced with the same choices. No, three languages without an Eastern-European language or Maltese are not enough (not according to an E.P.interpreter, who told me that there is a hiring freeze for people with the "normal" languages (languages of the "old" E.U.Member-States).
I have acquaintances (whom I taught the basis of Dutch in exchange for the basis of Chinese) living in Shangai.
My wife to be (hopefully) her mother-tongue is Russian.
As a third language at a school for Translators and Interpreters, I chose Japanese. but gave it up, given the obligatory workload. The basis of that language is still in my head (hiragana/katana), basic words.

However and to my surprise, because of my knowledge of Cyrillic, I can read Bulgarian a little (how do they relate?)and understand Romanian (Romanic language). Moreover, due to the fraternization of my village since the fall of Ceausescu with a Romanian village, I am given the possibility to live with a family of Romanian teachers.
Add to that that I will receive a sum big enough to buy a house (for the price of a house in Britain, I can get a small villa in Hungary or Bulgaria) ; my question also is what country and which languages to choose?
Keep an E.U.-dream alive and try to learn Romanian ASAP? Or combine my passion for martial arts with language learning and go to China, learn Chinese and enjoy myself. My friend has been asking for years: When you come to China?
If you leaf through the web-pages of the interpreter schools of different countries, you will see that, with a few exceptions they all are partisans of interpreting into the native language only.
Until a few years ago, you could register at Cluj-interpreter school with Romanian as C-language. According to their website, this is no longer possible? So, why waste precious time of my life, living in Romania. Moreover, to what extend is there still a demand for Romanian? Before these countries joined, there have been concours for translators and interpreters, posts created due to the adhesion of those countries to the E.U. have been filled, but in how many years will there be another concours?
Also bear in mind that to become a staff-interpreter, you must pass the knowledge tests about the E.U., the verbal and numerical reasoning test and qualify among the xxx best candidates.

[Edited at 2007-08-25 09:43]


Italian to English
thanks and an another question on politician and diplomats interpreters Aug 25, 2007

I really want to express my sincere gratitude to all of you for your advise and I’d like to encourage you to keep saying your precious point of view, which is helping me see the whole picture more clearly.
Yes, my dream is becoming an EU staff interpreter but it seems to me an almost impossible undertaking considering the hiring freeze and the range of abilities/knowledge you are required (however the part of the entry test relating to knowledge about the EU shouldn’t be a problem as I’m enrolling in a MA in European studies, political orientation at the Free University of Brussels), including minor languages .
So I’d be inclined to opt for my passion Chinese but still, I’m not so young anymore with regards to language learning(I’ve learnt only the very conversational basis so far).

And should I fail to enter the EU institutions as an interpreter (after a first acquiring some experience as freelencer) , another interesting alternative I’d like to work towards is becoming an interpreter for politicians, diplomats. That would be another dream. Any tips on that?
Thanks again and please keep writing to this poor desperate student who's trying her best to remain optimistic!


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:00
Flemish to English
+ ...
E.U.preslection tests Aug 25, 2007

An M.A. in European Studies in NO guarantee that you will pass the test.
After taking those tests 4 times, I got an insight how it is structured.

It consists of:
-20 questions about the E.U. to resolve in 20 minutes.
Whenever there is a change of Commission, a president of the E.P. or any other change that change may be included in those questions.
example: which of the following is not a member of the E.U.
Far Oër Islands
The Isle of Man

You simply have to study these by learning the right answer by heart before you start the tests.
-20 verbal reasoning questions (Gmat-type): you will not get those in your M.A., but practise makes perfect.
-10 numerical reasoning questions: usually tables or graphs from which you have to deduct a %-age, ratio, ...
I've the impression that succeeding in the last 10 numerical tests make the difference between passing the tests, but not with a sufficient grade to be among the first best classified candidates and being succesful.
Why don't you give it a try as a freelance (accredited) interpreter at the E.U. ? These tests are organised annually and consist of simultaneous and consecutive.

[Edited at 2007-08-25 19:25]


Jonathan Sanders (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:00
Keep going Aug 26, 2007

I'm so glad that you have a lot of options. I would say learn a language that A.) You like and/or are passionate about, B.) Gives you a lot of options and C.) Is a good investment (cost-benefit analysis).

I agree with Williamson about the EU eastern language thing. Just to add to what he said, I would also point out that in the past, EU freelance interpreters have learned languages which only the EU needed (i.e. Sweedish, Danish, etc.). But then, the EU with a tightened budget, started cutting back on languages in meetings. And low and behold, those Sweedish and Danish delegates became fluent English-speakers overnight and interpreters with those languages suddenly became superfluous!

I don't see any reason to think that if the same thing happens, that Romanians will not just start speaking French or Maltese delegates will not just start speaking in English. And at least Romanian, is a Romance langauge, so for an Italian it wouldn't be as difficult to learn. The rest of them are Slavic or Baltic languages thatl take approximately 5 years to learn.

That added to the fact that the EU is working on cutting freelance wages in a way that would really screw young interpreters.

The EU's Negotiating Delegation at AIIC said in April that the EU proposed the following :

"The Institutions outlined their proposal for three categories of remuneration for future ACI with gross pay levels and days to be worked before moving to the next category:

Experienced (==AD12/1): daily remuneration €476.14
Confirmed: 80 % and 400 days €380.92
Beginners: 68% and 400 days €323.07
(For purposes of comparison, experienced ACI currently receive €506.01 gross and beginners €364.32, with 100 days in the beginners category.) 2

And to quote an e-mail from a more experienced interpreter:

"New-comers to the profession and Brussels, don't imagine they're going to give you 365 days a year, so you are likely to take 5 years to complete 400 days (with luck), and that's 80 days a year (in your dreams), and a yearly income of €25,845.60, which is gross, I presume, so net you'll be living off under €20,000.00/year - and in Brussels, and beating your brain out to maintain communication among 27 Member States on the mind-boggling affairs of the EU Commission.

If you start out as a trainee buyer, with language skills, in El Corte Ingles or Marks & Spencers, you'll earn more than that and have more fun. Sure, you'll have to work 5 days a week, but with flexi-hours, benefits, health cover, etc. you will be able to have a life."

I know that sounds like bad news, but here's the good part:

I think us interpreting students come to (wrongly) believe the EU is some kind of Nirvana, and if we want to be "real" interpreters we have to go there. In truth, the EU is just a job. One job, which needs high-level language or interpreting skills. But it's far from the only one.

Lots of people need languages on the public and private market. If you learn another one more people need, you could have a lot of work. Chinese and Spanish sound like great options. Both are languags that will be needed at all levels for a long time, so you'll be able to make a living beyond conference interpreting if need be. You'll have less competition in Chinese, but it also requires a much greater personal investment. Spanish will be very easy to learn for you, but you will have more competition. It's your decision.

Even then, French and English are not interesting to the EU, but what about everyone else? Those are the big languages on the Italian private market, they're useful for translation and liaison interpreting. You can do all kinds of things with just those, so don't forget that either.

As far as getting into diplomatic interpreting, I would say get in contact with your government's Foreign Affairs Minsitry about that. That to me sounds like more fun than talking about harmonization of potato crisp bag size at any rate.

So congradulations on your program, soon you'll have a degree and keep strong, learn whatever language you feel passionate about, and you'll be OK. icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2007-08-26 01:31]

[Edited at 2007-08-26 01:32]


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:00
Flemish to English
+ ...
English Aug 26, 2007

English is the unofficial second language of Sweden and Danemark.
English is the official language of Malta (former British colony), but because all languages are treated equally Maltese is a working-language of the E.U., just like Irish.
(the E.U.could easily cut back on those two languages).
Almost everybody in Ireland speaks English and you really have to look for native speakers of Gaelic.
€20.000 is just enough to live and have some small savings left over.

[Edited at 2007-08-26 07:44]


Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:00
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Less is more Aug 26, 2007

Ciao sabra83

It's great that you are thinking about learning a new language to expand your working fields.
But... keep in mind that, if you learn "too many" languages, your quality won't be that good.
I fully agree with Henry Hinds: "el que mucho abarca poco aprieta".
There was a famous German architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who resumed his philosophy as a designer in three words: "less is more".
Concentrate on whatever language you want... but not too many.

And: although it should be easy for you to learn Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, even Romanian - remember that very similar languages are often full of "false friends". If not, ask South American native speakers of Spanish trying to read a shield when they go to Brazil...


Spring City (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:00
Chinese to English
+ ...
Chinese is not for the fainthearted Aug 27, 2007

I think I could have learned 5 European languages in the time I have spent learning Chinese. You should be prepared for a huge commitment of time, slow progress, but great enjoyment. I want to point some things out, as maybe I would never have learned Chinese had I known what I was taking on.

If you look at the old writing systems, based on pictographs and then with a further development into ideographs, Chinese is the one survivor, with Egyptian hieroglyphics and Old Sumerian cuneiform having fallen by the wayside. It is fun to write in Chinese characters. However, please note: 3000 characters are said to be needed to read with relative fluency. [A common vocabulary book used by foreign students contains around 10,000 words and phrases made up of 3,925 characters, but many of those characters are not in common use and the average Chinese person does not know them, so I believe around 4000 characters gives a foreigner good coverage of the characters likely to be encountered in print. The government has a list of the 3500 characters in frequent use, and another list of the 7000 characters in common use, but no Chinese would know all of the latter.]

After around 4 to 5 years' study of an intensity equivalent to taking Chinese as a major subject at university, you will be at a point where characters per se are no longer a problem. You will recognize nearly all the characters in a book discussing a non-abstruse topic, and probably your rate of non-recognition will be no higher than that of native Chinese. However, the vocabulary is huge, probably second only to that of English. There are thousands of quaint idioms in common use. Think of "once in a blue moon" and "kick the bucket" and "raining cats and dogs" in English. Well, such phrases are not overused in English. To write in a string of idioms would be absurd. But some Chinese texts are full of idioms. I once to my astonishment read a paragraph from a speech by China's president, Hu Jintao, and noticed that the whole paragraph consisted of nothing but a string of idioms. Many of these idioms refer back to some event or text in ancient China, and cannot be understood otherwise. Eg: chenyuluoyan ("to cause the fish to sink in the water and cause the geese to drop out of the sky") refers to a beautiful woman (whose beauty fish and geese cannot rival). There are THOUSANDS of such phrases in constant use. The language needs to be learned in 3 layers: 1) characters, which generally have an independent meaning; 2) words, generally of 2 characters; and 3) idioms, generally of 4 characters.

Oddly enough, knowledge of Chinese varies greatly among Chinese people. Chinese people who have only attended primary school - or on occasions not even that - may not know many characters at all, and will not understand classical references and idioms. Even educated Chinese cannot write all the words they can speak. Ask a Chinese person who has graduated from university to write this phrase: dale ge penti ("sneezed"). I have never met a Chinese person who could write this phrase, and I have asked dozens (although they generally can recognize it when written down). The second character in penti is one of the 7000 characters in the government's list of characters in common use, but is not in the 3500 characters in frequent use.

Pronunciation is yet another difficulty. There are a HANDFUL of Westerners whose Chinese sounds native, and generally they perform on Chinese television. Most Westerners will have extreme difficulty with Chinese pronunciation, but with practise should eventually get to the point where every character they say is comprehensible. There is an old anecdote about a foreign student who spoke very good Mandarin asking for directions to the Ming Tombs somewhere around Beijing. He was just around the corner from his destination, but the Chinese people he asked just shook their heads and said they couldn't speak English and so couldn't understand the question. As the student walked away, he heard one say to the other, "that's funny, it almost sounded like he wanted directions to the Ming Tombs..."!!

Chinese people cannot all speak fairly standard Mandarin, which is yet another problem. Quite apart from the fact that there are 300-400 mutually unintelligible dialects of Chinese (not the 8 frequently mentioned), even Chinese people ostensibly speaking Mandarin may not pronounce it well. Generally speaking, the better educated Chinese can approximate to Mandarin, but it is still very much a language in the process of popularization.

It will be fascinating to see if the difficulty of Mandarin for speakers of European languages prevents the emergence of Chinese as a truly international language in the way as French and then English. I hope you do learn Chinese, but set aside enormous reserves of time and effort to do so.

[Edited at 2007-08-27 19:41]


Local time: 11:00
Italian to English
Talking about EE languages Aug 28, 2007

Italian / Romanian

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