top of page
  • Writer's pictureNadine Hegmanns

Languages for work and fun

I have often been asked how many languages I speak, being a professional conference interpreter and all. Before I answer that question, here's some interpreting 101: During their studies, interpreters usually learn several (or at least one) foreign language (the so-called passive or C language) from which they work into their A language (aka native tongue or equivalent). They choose one foreign language which they master at a very high level close to mother-tongue and into which they can provide fluent and accurate interpretation from the A language and vice versa, and this is called their B language (or retour language).

So, to answer the question from the beginning: Technically I speak German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. HOWEVER, the languages that I studied to become an interpreter and translator are German (A language), English (B) and French (C) only. I learned Spanish and Italian just for fun, in my free time, and I definitely do not converse at a professional level. But it's enough to get around on holiday and to understand the lyrics of a song.

But how do we choose our B and C languages (unless we grew up bilingually)? A short, non-representative survey shows that many of my colleagues (myself included) find one language easier to learn from scratch than the other, making this language dominant. It becomes second nature to us, we even start to dream in our B language. Due to this talent, we enjoy studying vocabulary more, grammar rules come easy to us and even after several years we don't have to look up as many words when reading the newspaper or preparing for an assignment compared to our C language(s). In this case, choosing one's B is easy!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page