How Does An Interpreter Juggle With Two Languages

How Does An Interpreter Juggle With Two Languages

Have you tried interpreting between two different languages for others? If you haven’t, what do you think of becoming an interpreter?


What Does An Interpreter Do


The interpreter’s job is to convert messages from one language into another language. A vocation like this is known to be a challenging job as it requires an extreme level of concentration and responsiveness. Being able to speak multiple languages does not qualify someone to be an interpreter. It can take years of experience to be able to adapt to a stressful fast-paced environment and yet do a remarkable job.


(Educator: Ewandro Magalhaes, By TED-Ed)


How Simultaneous Interpretation Works

Simultaneous interpreting requires one who has extraordinary listening capabilities – to be able to process and
memorize the words that the source speaker is saying. Thereby, an experienced interpreter usually translates
the words into the target language in 5-10 seconds after the speaker says them.


Challenges of an Interpreter


One key skill of an interpreter lies in the ability to translate on the spot, sometimes without using dictionaries or
other supplemental reference materials. Due to cultural differences, one has to know when the speaker uses local slang and idioms. Jokes and sarcasm are also challenges when a speaker uses them throughout a conversation.  In order to keep the integrity of the message intact, the statement has to be accurately interpreted and transformed instantly for the target audience to understand.

In the above TED-Ed video, the statement was inaccurately translated from the source language into English,
heightening the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. It could have led to a catastrophic conflict.

The role of a good interpreter is paramount to many conversations and discussions happening in our globalized
world. The challenges of being a good one go beyond just knowing the language. They include an acute appreciation of cultural differences, proficiency with lingos and idioms, and sensitivity to the political climate.

Most Spoken Languages

Most Spoken Languages in the World

The method by which people communicate has vastly changed over the past century. Advancement in technology enabled us to talk to people who are miles away from us and the difficulty in interacting with other people has diminished immensely. The problem in communicating with others who are far from us is no longer an issue because we are now living in a world of interconnectivity.

Nevertheless, amidst the advancement that we are achieving, the system by which we communicate with others has not changed. We speak of the most fundamental method of communication – Language. Whether in spoken or written form, language has always been the key to an effective communication.

Though the ranks of the most spoken language may interchange slightly, we can safely assume that these languages are constant on top tier of spoken languages. According to Ethnologue’s 19th Edition, here is the list of top 10 most spoken languages in the world:

RankLanguagePrimary CountryTotal CountriesSpeakers(millions)
1Chinese [zho]China351,302
2Spanish [spa]Spain31427
3English [eng]United Kingdom106339
4Arabic [ara]Saudi Arabia58267
5Hindi [hin]India4260
6Portuguese [por]Portugal12202
7Bengali [ben]Bangladesh4189
8Russian [rus]Russian Federation17171
9Japanese [jpn]Japan2128
10Lahnda [lah]Pakistan8117

Did it come to you as a surprise? While English might be the most common international spoken language, it was not the most spoken language in the world.  It only comes into 3rd place next to Spanish and Chinese (Mandarin). Do note that this graph is a rough estimation as we cannot quantify it with 100% accuracy.

Nevertheless, being able to speak and understand from any of the most spoken languages in the world will give you an advancement in effective communication. Having the capability to communicate with a secondary language allows you to express yourself better to other people and it helps you gain confidence in conveying yourself as well.


Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:

Languages On the Verge of Extinction

Language has been in existence for a very long time. It is like a living entity on its own. It can either evolve, or it can also diminish to a point of oblivion. But why does language disappear? And when a language disappears, what is the impact to us as communicative beings?

Language does not only allow us to know a person’s land of origin. It is also relevant in knowing and understanding one’s culture, heritage and history. Without comprehending language, we will not be able to discover the amusing antiquity of diverse human civilisation. Take for example Egypt, their rich and astonishing history could have been lost and forgotten forever, but thanks to the discovery of Rosetta Stone, scholars were able to understand and translate the hieroglyphics. This paved way to better appreciation and understanding of Egyptian culture and their way of living during the ancient time.

While the success story of uncovering the Egyptian hieroglyphics was celebrated widely, it is melancholic to know that there are also languages on the verge of extinction. There are languages that have continuously declined to a point of endangerment and ultimately, may lead to their extinction. According to, they have listed as much as 3,000 endangered languages across 179 countries. This is a rough estimation of the known languages at the time of compilation and does not provide us the accurate number. Nonetheless, the number of languages on the verge of extinction are continuously increasing.

A language may become extinct due to the dying out of speakers or the changing of language preference to another. Due to changes such as globalisation and industrialisation, the rate by which a language becomes extinct rapidly increases. As per UNESCO, “It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century. With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.”

While language extinction is definitely inevitable, their lifespan can be lengthened by enabling younger generations to learn and understand the respective languages. Dissemination of information and community engagement can also help in preserving languages on the verge of extinction.

Asia’s Linguistic Challenges

With globalisation and the rapid advancement of technology, we are undoubtedly living in an era of a world without borders. Whether it is the economic, social or political aspect, linguistics is the one thing that links us to the rest of the world. Especially in Asia, where it is a melting pot of an amazing multitude of spoken and written codes. Yet, it is precisely this continent that faces one of the biggest challenges in linguistics.

Regardless of the number of national or indigenous languages a country has, the English Language is the global language that transcends all borders and cultures. Thanks to the influx of Western movies, pop music and fast food, English has pervaded countries where it is not a national language. There is no denying that for effective communication today, English is the key.

What is the future of minority languages in Asia then? National languages aside, many indigenous languages are facing the danger of being eroded by globalisation. With so much emphasis being placed on English as a global language, it will inevitably cast doubt on the younger generation as to whether their primary language is useful and worth speaking.

In Singapore, for example, we are home to four national languages – English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil – and Chinese dialects like Hokkien and Teochew. English is the first language and the medium of instruction in schools. With the use of English language becoming more dominant over the years, other languages have somewhat taken a back seat. The erosion of dialects is evident with the younger generation being barely able to speak their own dialect.

Will Asia be able to overcome this challenge and protect its minority languages? Only time will tell.

The History of Languages

Every living being in this planet who interacts with another being uses some form of communication. This method of interaction allows us to converse better with others. Some animals use gesture or sound to communicate, but humans have developed the most advance method of communication, language.

The human language is so complex that the origin of it has been disputed by many scholars around the world for a very long time. There have been various hypotheses and speculations where it has begun. However, due to lack of archaeological evidence and diversity of human language, the study of its origin has been deemed unfitting for a serious study.

Nonetheless, we will try to discuss the history of the common languages used today so that we may have better understanding of our method of communication. One of the common international language used today is English. So what is English and where did it originate? We will try to find out.

According to Wikipedia, “English is a West Germanic language that originated from Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Britain in the 5th to 7th centuries AD by Germanic invaders and settlers from what is now northwest Germany, west Denmark and the Netherlands.” From there, the English language has spread and evolved. Starting with the Old English, it has turned into Middle English and then transformed into what we use today, the Modern English. We can safely say that the English language is here to stay for a very long time due to the vast number of speakers internationally.

However, English is not the only language that has flourished. On the eastern side of the globe, the Chinese language may not have spread the way English did, but it was vastly spoken by native speakers. And like any other language, Chinese has also undergone transformation. Though the development of the spoken Chinese has been complex, the spread of Mandarin was prevalent. And now, due to China’s modernisation, Chinese (Mandarin) is steadily sidling its way to the western territory.

We do not know what the future holds. But like how humans have evolved, language will definitely continue to transform and be a part of our daily lives.

Top 10 Most Difficult Languages to Learn

In today’s globalised society, knowing more than one language is more of a necessity than a bonus. It may not be a bad thing – being multilingual comes with a host of benefits including better analytical and social skills.

The main challenge that lies in learning is new language is adapting to the syntax as well as learning about the culture behind it, which surprisingly contributes a lot to how the language is yielded.

Here’s a list of the top ten most difficult languages to learn!

Japanese is considered one of the toughest languages to learn. Because of its close relationship to Chinese, people looking to learn Japanese will have to memorise thousands of different characters. Adding on to this is how Japanese features three different writing systems and two syllabaries. The cultural aspect also makes Japanese difficult as it has a complex system of honorifics.

If you think the Arabic alphabet looks difficult to muster, you might want to think twice about it as that’s the easiest part. As compared to European languages, Arabic uses very little vowels. Words are formed by adding a series of sounds to a base root (commonly consisting of three consonants). The pattern of sounds then determines the grammatical case, number, gender and syntax, which combine into its actual meaning. Spoken Arabic is a tad more challenging as it is spoken by millions of people across an impressive span of countries, leading to many different dialects, which are vastly different.

The Thai language is fundamentally tough to learn. It has 44 consonants, 15 vowels and four diacritics marking tones. It also has different registers that are used based on the social context, which makes Thai tricky to pick up culturally. Thai is also tonal, which makes pronunciation very important. Its orthography and markers are also known for being complex.

Although it’s spoken by 40 million people globally, Polish is seldom picked up as a second language and much of this has to do with its difficulty. Its pronunciation is already a daunting prospect with words like “czesc (hello)” already causing difficulty to most speakers. And that’s just the beginning. To put how complex Polish grammar is into perspective, consider how English only has a single case. Polish has seven cases, each of which is affected by gender, of which the Polish language has seven (compared to English’s two). If you’re still undeterred, you might want to check out more information about this language, as this is only a truncated explanation of how difficult it is.

Hungarian is a widely spoken European Union language. It’s not only used in Hungary, but also in various communities within Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia and Romania. Hungarian is agglutinative and entire phrases (in other languages) are combined into a single Hungarian word. Remember how we said English has one case? Hungarian has 35 cases or noun forms. Hungarian also has a lot of vowels and deep throaty sounds that make it hard to speak verbally.

Urdu is the official language of Pakistan. Urdu is an amalgam of a few languages including Old Hindi, Farsi and Arabic. This makes its grammar hard to grasp as there are a few different grammatical rules based on what language the word is derived from.

Icelandic is a rather archaic language. It kept its old noun declension (arguably the hardest part) and verb conjugations. Its archaic vocabulary and complex grammar make it a very difficult language to learn. Icelandic also has four different cases that make it challenging for an English-speaker to learn.

The main challenge of picking Russian up is how similar the alphabets look as compared to English alphabets, yet they do not represent the same thing. This makes it a little confusing for people within the first few weeks of learning it. Russian has six cases and memorizing them will be difficult for people new to the case system.

One of the oldest languages in the world, Greek is a language that’s popular amongst college students. The most difficult part about learning Greek is getting used to its alphabet and its tone. Learning where to place the stress on every word is difficult as if you change it, the meaning of the word can be entirely different.

Spoken by a fifth of the world’s total population, Chinese is frequently voted as the most useful yet most difficult language to pick up. Chinese is a tonal language: changing the tone of the same sound produces two different words. It also has a complex writing system with characters instead of alphabets, requiring you to learn thousands of different characters. Chinese verbs do not have tenses, and the differences in time are put across using markers like “tomorrow” or “next year”.

Feeling slightly daunted? Don’t be! Being fluent in more than one language builds adaptability and flexibility, and makes you feel more comfortable and confident in different environments. Perhaps most importantly, your career prospects will grow immensely, especially in MNCs or startups that have bases in more than one country. Your effort will definitely pay off and you might find out you’re a natural linguist!