Working at the United Nations (UN) has to be a dream role for many translators and interpreters – and it is certainly a job that keeps linguists busy. After all, this is a place where you can mingle with people from 193 different countries.

English and French were the original two official working languages of the UN. Since then, the Security Council has added Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish as working languages, while the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly have added Arabic, Chinese and Russian. However, there are dozens of languages spoken in the UN’s corridors – along with many varieties of each of these languages.

In a recent film made for UN Web TV, Patricia Duffy, an instructor on the UN’s Language and Communications Programme, noted: “You have a great variety of Englishes [spoken at the UN].” With so many accents and dialects all speaking English, it can be as hard navigating all the different varieties as it is understanding all the other languages spoken at the UN. Indeed, Burundi’s second counsellor Jean Ndinduruvugo revealed that it is easier for him to speak in English to someone from Africa than America, because Americans have a natural tendency to talk quickly, which can make it hard to catch what is being said.

Ms Duffy explained that as a rule, the English used at the UN is very formal because it is the language of high diplomacy. However, between friends and colleagues the English used becomes much less strict. Martijn Dalhuijsen, who works at the European Commission, noted that another stumbling block is the number of different abbreviations and acronyms used. “English is so imprecise compared to other languages,” he added.

One of the most important elements of working at the UN is effective communication. That’s why Susana Reyes Arreaga, editorial assistant for UN Development Business, said: “It’s really, really, really important that we communicate clearly. Not just among our team, [but] as well with clients from all over the world.” As Mr Dalhuijsen pointed out: “If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying then what is the whole point of communicating?”

Working for an international organisation is an opportunity that presents numerous challenges and opportunities, as Daniel Pashley – a political linguist at the European Parliament – explained to the BBC last year. However, quite often there are moments of humour to be enjoyed too. Mr Pashley told how once, when interpreting for a college who described a policy he felt was being unduly protected as a “sacred cow”, he translated the phrase as “holy cow” by mistake. Proof that there are always light-hearted moments to be enjoyed in life as an interpreter.