What is an A, B or C language?
Interpreters’ working languages are categorised according to the following system:
– A language: The interpreter’s maternal language that he or she speaks with perfect fluency.
– B language: A foreign language that the interpreter speaks at a very high level.
Another term for A and B languages is active languages, called as such because the interpreter works in both directions between his or her A and B languages. When interpreters work into their B language, it is called the retour.
– C language: A language that the interpreter understands in all its complexity. Interpreters work from their C language into their native (A) language.
C languages are also known as passive languages because interpreters never work into them. In other words, interpreters do not provide a retour into their C languages.
What do pivot and relay mean?
At multilingual conferences, there are sometimes unusual language combinations. In those cases, the interpretation may pass through a third language.
Imagine a conference with Chinese, English and Russian. The Chinese-English booth will interpret from Chinese into English. The Russian-English booth, whose interpreters do not speak Chinese, will then take the Chinese booth “on relay” in order to interpret into Russian.
In other words, when Chinese speakers take the floor, the Russian interpreters will listen to their Chinese colleagues’ English interpretation.
Pivot languages are languages shared by all of the interpretation booths at a given event. These are the languages that can be used for relay purposes.
However, you need to be careful about how you use relay interpretation.
When there are unusual language combinations, the best thing to do is to speak with a consultant interpreter.
Only interpretation professionals know how to build strong teams of interpreters, taking into account their language combinations and the potential use of a relay language.