It appears the key to success when interpreting is laughter. At least that’s what Daniel Pashley thinks of his career as an interpreter at the European Parliament.

The political linguist has been telling the BBC about what it’s like to work at a place where 23 languages are officially spoken. It is a strict policy that every Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is able to read documents in their native language, and keep up with and join in debates while speaking in their mother tongue. This means that each of the 23 languages used by the member states must be translated into each of the 22 others. In total, there are 506 possible language combinations!

Just like here at Language Insight, the European Parliament prefers its linguists to translate into their mother tongue. However, with such a staggering pool of languages to work with this is not always possible at the heart of European politics. As we all know, locality is one of the most important aspects of translation and interpretation, and not having someone who is a native speaker of the target language can be risky. Mr Pashley explains that he is no stranger to making a slip-up in the midst of a live debate.

“I remember that once a delegate was complaining about a policy he felt was being protected unduly, calling it the equivalent of a sacred cow. I called it a ‘holy cow’ by mistake,” he tells the BBC. Daniel immediately realised his mistake and broke into a “fit of giggles”, which he admits is the “last thing you want to subject your listeners to”.

However, sometimes laughter is a sign that an interpreter is doing their job perfectly. Daniel says he knows he has done something right when he hears people chuckling at a joke the speaker has made in a language the other MEPs don’t understand – because it means he has interpreted the humour correctly.

It’s not only the live debates and speeches that every member of the European Parliament needs to be able to follow, but also the legislative acts that come out of this. Of course, these are laws that affect nearly 500 million people across all the member states of the continent – and every one of these individuals needs to be able to read each of the legal documents in their mother tongue, should they wish to.

The mammoth task of translating all of this – and remember there are 506 possible combinations – is handled by 75 lawyer-linguists. They ensure that every legislative text is of the highest possible quality in order to communicate the will of parliament to each of the MEPs AND the millions of constituents. Proof that translators are almost as important to the way the EU is run as the politicians themselves.

Luckily, it’s not all work and no play as if Daniel’s experience is anything to go on, being a linguist for the European Parliament certainly comes with its light-hearted moments!

Could you imagine yourself working at the European Parliament?