Question about learning a third language as a translator
Thread poster: Jason Cronin

Jason Cronin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:49
Spanish to English
Apr 18, 2012

Hello all,

I am currently about to begin my last year before earning my bachelor's degree in Spanish Translation. My native language is English. Many of the other students in the program have taken classes in languages other than Spanish, but up until now I haven't dared to do so, since I have always felt that studying another language might pull me away from my knowledge of Spanish, which I hope will become my moneymaker as a translator. Recently I have become interested in learning French, since it seems to be a bit more distanced than Portuguese or Italian. I know Portuguese might seem more economical, but I KNOW that it would ruin my Spanish (a few colleagues have suffered quite a bit with that one). Also, these last few years I feel like I've mastered Spanish enough to maintain it at a safe level (2 years in Argentina, about 10 years of study)

I would like to take French classes my senior year because:
1) I feel like as a specialist of languages it would be nice to have know three languages. There are many people who are bilingual in the US (lots of trilinguals in the EU) and I just want to have the status of a translator that knows three languages.

2) Being able to read and write French might give me some more work options in terms of translation, especially as an in-house employee

3) It'll keep things interesting

What do you guys think? I'd appreciate any perspectives. Any bad experiences?



Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:49
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Saturated language combinations Apr 18, 2012

jdcronin wrote:

... Spanish, which I hope will become my moneymaker as a translator.

My impression is that Spanish>English and French>English are the most saturated language pairs. Have you thought about a Germanic language? Rates are higher.

If you are not a native Spanish speaker, it would be better to add another language into English rather than translate into a non-native language. And English>Spanish competition and rates are even worse that Spanish>English.


Local time: 09:49
Dutch to Czech
+ ...
I´d go for it Apr 19, 2012

If you like the language, just go for it and learn it. At one time I realized I was studying 7 languages at the same time ( also because I had a language combination which required us to learn more languages in addition to our majors) and it worked, because I was working with languages actively and my brain was working full- time...
now I just work or read and it´s much more difficult to work on any language at all....
I´d say a Slavic, Germanic and Roman language is an ideal combination, but I´d say do what you´ll love doing...

[Upraveno: 2012-04-19 19:32 GMT]


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:49
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Go for it, and don't worry if you are confused for a few weeks Apr 19, 2012

For a month or two after I started on an intensive German course, it seemed to play havoc with my French, which was otherwise quite fluent.

It will pass! As I gradually became more fluent in German, it was no problem to keep the languages separate. Several of my classmates at school studied French with Spanish instead of German, and had no problems - they enjoyed it.

In fact it gets easier to learn new languages as you learn more, but unless you really are exceptionally gifted, you will find it dificult to keep them all up to standard.

If you go for French and Spanish, my advice would be to go for a niche subject area too, that you really specialise in. That should give you your personal edge over some of the competition.

Make a plan for your career and pursue it. But don't be afraid to look around and go down more exciting paths! My French and German are nothing like as fluent as they used to be... though I can get by and revive them a little.

I met a Dane before I got to Germany, and ended up with quite a nice niche language. Being in love is an aid to learning the weirdest language!


If I were starting now, I would try Czech or Polish - don't ask me why, but I always liked the sound of them, and after a couple of visits to Poland I was convinced.
Every time I meet some Dutch friends, I think I should learn Dutch, but their English is too good, so I never get started!

There is definitely a future in the less widespread languages as well as the FIGS group.


Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:49
Hebrew to English
Mixed feelings Apr 19, 2012

Firstly, I know how you feel about worrying about learning another language, this is why I was so resistant to take up another language - I felt it would detract from my Hebrew. I doubt it would have - as long as my dedication to Hebrew would have continued - but I "remained faithful" in the end. I can't say I regret it, because I don't, but at the same time I do sometimes wonder....what if.....

Also, I would definitely warn against learning a language for the sake of it, especially for translation. Markets are unpredictable and there's no language you can learn which would guarantee a lucrative future. I only say this because you say:

I just want to have the status of a translator that knows three languages.

In my opinion, in languages and translation, it's quality not quantity. You should aim to distinguish yourself by the former.

And to continue Christine's topic of love ♥ ♥ ....

If you do decide to learn another language, then I'd suggest learning one you ♥ love ♥ , rather than one you *think* you should learn for whatever reason, be it economic, linguistic similarity or otherwise. An appreciation of the culture and people also helps in my experience...

Of course, as Christine's story shows, sometimes fate plays a role....

I have to say I agree with her about Czech/Polish....really nice languages. If you are economically motivated then you'd naturally have to consider the emerging economies (Mandarin, Arabic, Russian), but personally (and as mentioned above) this is the weakest argument for learning a specific language in my opinion.

There's definitely something to be said for "niche" languages.

Whatever you decide, good luck............♫♪ !


Kay Denney  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:49
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Why more than one source language is important Apr 20, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:

I just want to have the status of a translator that knows three languages.

In my opinion, in languages and translation, it's quality not quantity. You should aim to distinguish yourself by the former.

While I agree with quality over quantity there are some advantages to having several languages:

- for working with international bodies like the UN or the EU. Having translated some documents for UNESCO (through an unofficial channel ie a friend) and thoroughly enjoying it, I do regret not having another language to be able to apply to work for them officially.

- even for agencies: as a PM, I preferred to work with translators who could manage a couple of source languages (no more than three). I mostly had to manage FR-EN but occasionally I'd get DE-EN or SP-EN. I didn't have enough work in those languages to really forge meaningful working relationships with the translators. My German and Spanish are neither of them really up to scratch, so I needed somebody I could trust to handle the translation, so that proofreading would only be a formality. Sourcing to somebody who I already worked with in FR-EN made me feel that much more comfortable.

As for languages affecting each other:
I have basic knowledge of three different languages and when I'm trying to think of a German word for example, I often find the Spanish term instead, or vice-versa. Never the French term. I see my brain as having separate compartments for the two languages I have a translator-level grasp of, plus a "ragbag" of those that I don't really master. I'm pretty sure if I were to study any of those seriously, it would start to take precedence over the other two.


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:49
French to English
+ ...
A few thoughts... Apr 21, 2012

I think it's helpful to separate out a couple of notions and issues:

- linguistic KNOWLEDGE for the purpose of translation isn't necessarily the same as FLUENCY (though fluent "understanding" and speaking a language fluently probably share some weak correlation). You may find that in learning a very similar language, your FLUENCY of one or other language takes priority, but may still be able to retain "reflective" knowledge sufficient for translation from the different languages;

- the "economy" argument may not turn out to be very convincing for the purposes of translation: it may help you with acquiring the SYSTEM of the language, but may actually work the other way on LEXICAL DETAIL, in lulling you into a false sense of familiarity and desensitising you to the fact that cognates in the two languages may have subtly different meanings/connotations.

- it is still likely to be a few years of study before you are ready to actually translate commercially from your third language, so you really need to be careful to choose a language that is going to give you the motivation to keep going for a few years. Learning Dutch because there are "fewer Dutch translators and thus rates are higher" is fine, but is "theoretically may earn me more money some time in the future" going to be enough motivation to keep you going for several years if you have no other affinity with Dutch culture, Dutch speakers etc...


Jason Cronin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:49
Spanish to English
thanks! Apr 24, 2012

wow, thank you guys so much for your insight and support! I decided to go for it and take French. I'll mention that I omitted the fact that my girlfriend is from Dijon, France (I wanted a more objective opinion) and she is quite happy hahahaha anyways, thanks again!


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Question about learning a third language as a translator

Advanced search

PerfectIt consistency checker
Faster Checking, Greater Accuracy

PerfectIt helps deliver error-free documents. It improves consistency, ensures quality and helps to enforce style guides. It’s a powerful tool for pro users, and comes with the assurance of a 30-day money back guarantee.

More info »
SDL MultiTerm 2019
Guarantee a unified, consistent and high-quality translation with terminology software by the industry leaders.

SDL MultiTerm 2019 allows translators to create one central location to store and manage multilingual terminology, and with SDL MultiTerm Extract 2019 you can automatically create term lists from your existing documentation to save time.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search