UN and Multilingualism

An essential factor in harmonious communication among peoples, multilingualism is of very particular importance to the United Nations. By promoting tolerance, it thus ensures effective and increased participation of all in its work, as well as greater effectiveness, better outcomes and more involvement. Multilingualism should be preserved and encouraged by various actions within the United Nations system, in a spirit of partnership and communication.

The balance among the six official languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, with English and French used in day-to-day professional exchanges, has been an ongoing concern of all the Secretaries-General. Numerous activities have been undertaken, from 1946 to the present, to promote the use of the official languages to ensure that the United Nations, its goals and actions were understood by the widest possible public.

Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish are the six official languages of the United Nations. English and French are the working languages of the United Nations Secretariat (resolution 2 (I) of 1 February 1946).

The issue of multilingualism should be considered from several angles, in particular internal and external communications. Internal communications take place within the Organization, whether official communications between Member States and all the actors involved in the work of the United Nations or communications among Member States and the United Nations Secretariat. A distinction must be made among working languages and official languages. External communication, intended for the widest possible audience, can include languages other than official languages used to disseminate the messages of the United Nations. Finally, in order to promote all the aspects of multilingualism, the question of human resources must be envisaged separately.

The mission of the Department of Public Information is to make known and understood the ideals and messages of the United Nations all over the world, in order to raise support for the Organization, by means of key intermediaries, including the press, non-governmental organizations and educational establishments. To that end, the widest and most appropriate possible distribution of information and communications products it creates must be ensured. The Department thus works systematically to expand the global audience for its products and activities, which include radio and television programmes, the Internet site, the network of United Nations Information Centres, and the guided tour programmes conducted at the main offices.