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Understanding Active and Passive Languages

To provide the highest quality interpreting services and meet our clients' specific needs, we at Translators USA always take time to talk to our clients to understand their needs and to make sure that they understand their options. But we also take time to make sure that they understand the terms commonly used in the interpreting industry. For example, while all understand the difference between active and passive languages, some may not understand the difference in the context of interpretation and what does it mean for their multilingual event.

Active and Passive Languages as Working Languages

As working languages, active and passive languages refer to languages an interpreter understands and speaks fluently, and languages which they understand but don't speak fluently, respectively. In other words, active languages are those from and to which an interpreter can translate, while passive languages are those which are interpreted from but not vice versa.

To make the distinction between active and passive languages as working languages more understandable, they are often also classified as:

  • A language. It is the interpreter's first language into which they can work from all other languages. Obviously, A language is always active language.
  • B language. This is a language which an interpreter understands and speaks perfectly but isn't their first language. They can work into a B language from all other languages as if it would be their first language. B language is thus also active language.
  • C language. This term covers all languages which an interpreter understands completely but can't interpret into. It is also a working language, however, since it is not worked with in both ways but only to A or B language, C language is classified as passive language.

Active and Passive Languages at Your Multilingual Event

To return to the question raised above, what do active and passive languages mean for your multilingual event? When asked how many active and passive languages there will be (and which ones), your interpreting service provider is asking you how many and which languages will be spoken (passive) and how many and into which languages you need them to be interpreted (active). In short, active languages at your multilingual event are all languages requiring interpretation into, while passive languages are all languages requiring interpretation from.

Determining which and how many languages at your multilingual event are active and which and how many are passive is of key importance for the number of interpreters and the type of equipment needed. Therefore, it is highly important for your interpreting service provider to be informed about active and passive languages at your multilingual event.  

Need Interpreters? Interpreting Equipment? Advice? Translators USA Can Help

Whether you need interpreters, top notch interpreting equipment or just an advice for your multilingual event, we are happy to help. 7 days a week and 365 days a year!

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Thursday, 18 January 2018
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