Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (Love of others, love of self), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1
Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is a phenomenon in which people appear to speak in languages unknown to them. One definition used by linguists is the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases, as part of a religious practice in which it is believed to be a divine language unknown to the speaker.
Glossolalia is practiced in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity as well as in other religions. The term derives from glōssais lalein, a Greek phrase used in the New Testament meaning “to speak in or with tongues [i.e., other languages]” (Acts 2:4, 1 Corinthians 14:18).
Sometimes a distinction is made between “glossolalia” and “xenolalia” or “xenoglossy”, which specifically designates when the language being spoken is a natural language previously unknown to the speaker.
However, this distinction is not universally made, and the New Testament uses the phrase glōssais lalein in at least one passage to refer to speaking in languages known to others but not to the speakers.
In Christian theology, interpretation of tongues is one of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. This gift is used in conjunction with that of the gift of tongues—the supernatural ability to speak in a language (tongue) unknown to the speaker. The gift of interpretation is the supernatural enablement to express in an intelligible language an utterance spoken in an unknown tongue. This is not learned but imparted by the Holy Spirit; therefore, it should not be confused with the acquired skill of language interpretation.
While cessationist Christians believe this miraculous charism has ceased, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians believe this gift continues to operate within the church. The gift of the interpretation of tongues is exercised when someone speaks with the gift of tongues in a gathering of people or a church environment.
The purpose of interpretation of unknown tongues is so the congregation may understand the message given in an incomprehensible language or tongue. An example of this type of interpretative methodology occurs in the Old Testament at Belshazzar’s banquet when God wrote the words, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” on the wall of the banquet hall with a finger. Words unknown to the Babylonians, Daniel translated the words to mean, “Numbered, numbered, weighed and divided;” Daniel also interpreted the words to mean, “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it, thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persian” Therefore, these words incomprehensible to man and written by God, then translated and interpreted by the Prophet Daniel prophetically announced the demise of the Babylonian kingdom in 538 BC when Darius of the Medes and the Persians overtook the Babylonian Empire.