Exploring the Official Languages of the United Nations

The United Nations is an international organization that came into existence in 1945. The purpose of the United Nations is to keep peace in the world. The most important countries that took part in its emergence are France, the Republic of China, the USA, the Soviet Union, and the UK along with 46 other countries. All these nations aim to help developing countries to raise their living standards, promote social progress, and human rights around the world. At present, the UN comprises 193 members. It includes all the independent states except Vatican City. The headquarters of the United Nations is in New York City. Major offices of the UN are in Nairobi, Kenya, Geneva, Switzerland, and Austria.

Major Languages of the United Nations

The 193 members of the UN represent different populations of the world that speak heterogeneous languages but the UN has six official languages. These include Arabic, Chinese, French, English, Russian, and Spanish. Arabic is added later on. These six official languages are used at UN meetings and for official documents. These languages depict 2.8 billion people from around the globe. These are also the official languages of members of UN nations.

Interpretation and Translation

The members of the UN are required to speak the language from six official languages. Moreover, they need to provide an interpretation of the language that they are using. The interpretation is done in the other five official languages. The official documents in the UN are treated in the same manner. They need to be interpreted and translated in the other five languages. Otherwise, they are not published.

One of the main problems that arise in the UN is that 193 countries that are members of the United Nations have different cultures and norms and people speak according to their linguistic and cultural nuances. Something that is considered polite in one culture might be offensive in another culture. To overcome this issue, the UN provides special linguistic lessons to 10000 people every year.

The UN and Multilingualism

Multilingualism helps in communication between diverse members of the UN within the UN premises. By Multilingualism, tolerance among the members is enhanced. It also ensures more participation of members in the UN’s work and they work with efficiency. To eliminate the difference between English and other languages and to ensure equal treatment to all the official languages, the department of global communication has set a minimum standard for UN multilingualism.  

Official Languages of the United Nations

Let’s have a look at six official languages of the UN. 

English

English is a widely spoken language in the world. It is native to 1.5 billion people in total and this number is expected to increase immensely in the coming years. One question that comes to mind is why English is considered a global language. English started to spread in the period of the British Empire and then spread in the whole continent. Although the English empire does not exist now, there are still 53 countries that belong to the Commonwealth of Nations that is the political association that aims to help poor countries and support each other. International trade in the world is carried in the English Language. English is a vital part of the global community and it is playing an important role In UN communication to spread peace around the globe.

Chinese

The Chinese language became the official language of the United States in 1946. In its initial years, Chinese was not used in the work of the United Nations. Eventually, when the lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China were restored in 1971, then the situation started improving. In 1973, the general assembly included Chinese as a working language and the Security Council started using it in 1974. At present, more and more UN staff members and offices are using the Chinese language.

French

Although all official languages are recognized, the UN secretariat has two working languages, English, French for daily business communication. The UN secretary needs to communicate in these two languages. In the era of the 17th to 19th century, French was considered the language of diplomacy, politics, and culture and it is spoken in all the courts of Europe and with time, it has taken away the influence of Latin language from the circle of power and intellectuals. French is an important language in the UN but it is not the preferred one. French-speaking groups and countries want to maintain balance in the UN system and knowhow of the French language is important in catering a new level of global decisions. 

Russian

The Russian Federation was successful in winning its seat after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The succession was supported by the USSR’s former members and is not objected to by the UN membership. Russia was responsible for the Soviet Union’s economy. This factor made him the logical choice of the United Nations. The Russian language is spoken in Russia. It is the seventh-most spoken language in the world by a number of native speakers and the eighth-most spoken. It became the official language of the UN on Feb 1, 1946.

Spanish

Spanish holds a great position in the United Nations system. Although the institutional representation is inferior to English and French. The demand for the Spanish language within the United Nations and outside it predicts the great future and recognition of the Spanish language.

 Arabic

As a part of the UN, many Arab states were grouped in 1945 in the Arab league. Countries like Lebanon, Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia make 6% of the world’s GDP. In 1948, the conference of UNESCO was organized in Beirut, in which they decided Arabic will be the working language of the governing bodies. In 1960, the general conference recognized the importance of the Arabic language and declared that all the documents should be translated into the Arabic language because they will have a great impact in Arabic speaking countries.

Wrapping Up

6 official languages of the UN contribute to less than half of the world’s population. Only this population understands the documents and the higher priority decisions made by the UN. No need to fret on that because several translation companies are working around the globe that helps in the interpretation and translation of documents in several languages according to your requirements.

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