The 193 United Nations member nations represent a population of diverse background, culture, heritage, and speak different diverse languages. However, the international body has only six official languages. Five of the six languages represents the founding members of the UN, namely the United Kingdom, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The six official languages include Arabic (added to the list upon popular request), Chinese, Spanish, English, Russian, and French. These languages are used in all the UN meetings and on official documents.
The Six Official Languages of the United Nations
Russian is the official language of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russian Federation (one of the founding member of the UN. It is also widely spoken throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Baltic States. Russian was also the official language of the Soviet Union. The language was established as the official language of the in on February 1, 1946. It was included as a working language of the UN on December 21, 1968.
Arabic was the last of the six languages to be included as the official and working language of the UN gaining the status on December 18, 1973, following the General Assembly resolution 3190 (XXVIII). The General Assembly also suggested the Security Council consider including it as a working language. Arabic was included as a working language of the Security Council in January 1974. There are over 300 million Arabic native speakers in the world. It is also the language of the Quran.
English is perhaps the most popular language in the world, with over two billion speakers. It is the official language of almost 60 countries. There are over 350 million native English speakers in the world. English was established as one of the UN’s official languages and one of the two working languages following a General Assembly resolution 2(I) on February 1, 1946.
French is the native language of about 77 million people and spoken fluently by about 275 million people worldwide. It is the official language of 29 countries across all the continents. French was established as an official language of the UN alongside English, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese on February 1, 1946. It was also established as the body’s working language on the same day.
Spanish was established as one of the official languages of the UN on February 1, 1946, and added as one of the working three languages on December 11, 1948. It was adopted as a working language by the Security Council on January 22, 1969. There are about 480 million native Spanish speakers while about 75 million people use it as their second language worldwide.
The Chinese language is spoken as the first language by about 1.2 billion people worldwide. It is mainly spoken by the ethnic Chinese, especially in China. Chinese was one of the first five official languages of the UN, established on February 1, 1946. It was established as a working language of the General Assembly in December 1973 and of the Security Council in December 1974.
Benefits of Multilingualism at the UN
The use of several languages at the UN enables the linguistically diverse member states to communicate within the meeting halls. It also ensures increased participation and effectiveness in the organization’s work. Other unofficial languages are also allowed in the UN meeting but one is expected provide an interpretation or written text of their speech in one of the official languages.