Musicians and professional interpreters have a lot in common more than people think. We’re talking about all kinds of musicians here from vocalists to instrumentalists and yes, singers are musicians too. Through this article, you’ll know how playing music and interpreting foreign languages are in manys neurologically and artistically similar activities.
You’ll also know how both parties can learn from each other and how they can improve their musical talent and language skills. Translators will also find this article helpful as they can acquire some tips on becoming an interpreter by developing their listening skills that both interpreters and musicians have. Here’s a great resource that has more info on how can a translator become an interpreter if we’ve piqued your curiosity.
Musicians and Professional Interpreters Activate the Same Part of the Brain
Many studies have shown that musicians and bilingual individuals generally share the same neural resources. To be exact, these use the same areas of the brain that has to do with identifying pitch. Researchers also observed that musicians and language learners learn music or a new language faster than the rest of their non-musical or monolingual peers.
However, they’re not saying that musicians are in most cases bilingual or multilingual and vice versa. But researchers do see a connection as to how both activities engage similar parts of the brain that has to do with listening.
Musicians and Professional Interpreters Learn Relatively the Same Way
When getting down to the technical side of music-learning and language-learning, they’re both tedious, boring, and sometimes torturous in their own way. Let’s start with learning music. Music is a universal language and can be understood by anyone without uttering a single word. But to convey a particular type of message and emotion in a musical performance takes some serious practice.
Ever saw musicians perform and d wonder how many hours of practice they had to commit to perform for 10 minutes? How about a 2-hour performance? It depends on each musician but the common answer is a lot; numbering in years instead of hours. We’re not talking about playing musical passages relatively until getting it right.
Musicians have to juggle a lot of factors for them to give a stellar performance. Indeed, some instruments are harder than others but they all follow the same musical principles. That is to having technical proficiency over the instrument, keep count on the piece’s rhythm, masterful note production, expressive phrasing, and depending on the music, staying true to the musical piece’s essence and also the original intention of the composer.
Those are just to name a few but you can see how technically and even emotionally demanding musical performances are. Learning a language is also the same case. We don’t really notice how technically demanding speaking a language is with our mother tongue. But it becomes obvious when trying to learn a new language. Of course, this also depends on the language as some languages have a higher learning curve than others.
Keep in mind that the number of speakers of a certain language doesn’t have to do with its ease of learning. The most spoken language in the world i.e. Mandarin is actually one of the hardest languages in the world for English speakers. But essentially, whatever learning you’re learning, all involve the language-learning principles.
That is to learning and utilizing new vocabulary, new grammar rules, new ways of phrasing, new word arrangements, getting the right pitch and intonation, etc. The cognitive load is greater for beginners as they have to first translate the foreign words in their heads to their mother tongue. As with musicians, practicing a lot is the only way to develop your language skills.
What Professional Interpreters Can Learn From Musicians
In a way, language-learning is also a form of musical training. The key to speaking like a native speaker is to listen to accents; its varying pitches and rhythm. Certain accents are quite more ‘musical’ than others. One of the essential ways of learning a language effectively is to be a very good listener to even the slightest verbal subtleties.
By nature, musicians also place listening skills as a crucial asset in musical development. Like learning a new language, musicians also have to listen to instrumental subtleties but in a much more comprehensive manner. They have to listen to the pitch, variations in rhythm, tempo, intonation, phrasing; essentially everything that makes up the musician’s own interpretation of their chosen musical piece.
In music, no two musicians will ever sound alike even if they are playing the exact same piece with the exact same notes. While the average person might not be able to tell the slightest difference, a musician’s ears are on a whole new level in terms of listening. They can detect the slightest variations between performers.
In the same way, no two interpreters will give the exact same interpretation from the same source language. Their output depends on their listening skills, understanding the language and environment’s context, the audience they are interpreting for, and their overall language and interpretation abilities.
So ultimately, professional interpreters have to constantly hone their active listening skills as they go higher up the career ladder. They’ll need an acute sense of listening to provide professional interpretation services in high-stakes events such as business negotiations, international conferences, etc. They can learn critical skills from a musician’s extreme attention to detail in regards to their listening skills.
For professional translators who want to dive into the interpretation career, they’ll have to commit to developing their listening skills. Even though translation and interpretation both involve language translation, the work environments aren’t the same. Rendering professional interpretation services are vastly different from the solitary work environments in rendering professional translation services.
What Musicians Can Learn From Professional Interpreters
Indeed, both can learn from each other in the scope of listening skills, but there’s one area where musicians can really learn specifically from professional interpreters. For professional interpreters to constantly keep their language translation game to the highest level they can possibly can, they have to fully commit to lifelong professional development.
That includes traveling all around the world to culturally immerse themselves and to also attend international conferences and industry-related events. Of course, musicians travel a lot as well but not that all musicians, especially small-time local musicians can dedicate to years or even a few months of touring.
But it’s fair to say that a lot of good musicians are well-traveled. Depending on their musical interests, a lot of them might even pick up new languages along the way, especially when they engage in musical studies abroad.
Language is an endemic human creation where it’s best to immerse yourself in the native speaker’s home country. Music is also endemic, and one of the effective ways to learn it is to travel and learn from the people who have made the music a part of their culture. In short, musicians have to get out of the comforts of their practice room to learn new ways to express their musical talents from other people and cultures.
Famous Classical and Pop Musicians Who Are Multilingual: Conclusion
Either as a result of their tours to different countries or during their formative years as a child or early adult, many musicians today and in the past happen to speak another foreign language or two. Classical musicians for instance such as the opera singer Andrea Bocelli and world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma are both multilingual.
Andrea Bocelli, one of the most recognizable pop opera singers is fluent in Italian, Spanish, and French, and conversationally capable in English. Yo-Yo Ma, a child prodigy and virtuoso with the cello, is heralded as one of the finest cellists to ever come on the modern stage and is fluent in French and Chinese (Mandarin).
As for pop musicians, one of the most notable pop musicians with stellar foreign language skills is Shakira and Celine Dion. Shakira is fluent in her native Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Catalan. Celine Dion, being a native of Quebec province in Canada, is fluent in both French and English.
Indeed, there’s many more musicians that would have ended up on this list but it would inevitably end longer for this article’s purpose. Take not that we’re not saying that their foreign language skills peak for their musical talent and vice versa. You can find many all-time great musicians who still happened to be monolingual.
But could it be possible that their foreign language skills could be a result of their extensive musical career? Many studies say yes to a degree, but the only way to get a concrete answer is to hear it straight from them or find direct quotes online. But it does give us a good idea to ponder about every now and then.