child at a blackboard pointing at letters of the English alphabet
A student at the school at the Protection of Civilians site of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in Juba learns his ABCs. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet"

Celebrating the English language at the UN

English Language Day at the UN is celebrated on 23 April, the date traditionally observed as both the birthday and date of death of William Shakespeare. The Day is the result of a 2010 initiative by the Department of Global Communications, establishing language days for each of the Organization's six official languages. The purpose of the UN's language days is to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization.

Under the initiative, UN duty stations around the world celebrate six separate days, each dedicated to one of the Organization's six official languages.

The days are as follows:

Language Days at the UN aim to entertain as well as inform, with the goal of increasing awareness and respect for the history, culture and achievements of each of the six working languages among the UN community. 

Multilingualism and the UN

An essential factor in harmonious communication among peoples, multilingualism is of particular importance to the United Nations. By promoting tolerance, multilingualism ensures effective and increased participation of all in the Organization’s work, as well as greater effectiveness, better outcomes and more involvement.

The balance among the six official languages has been an ongoing concern of the Secretary-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 are understood by the widest possible public.

The English Language Programme

The English Language Programme (ELP) at the United Nations is offered to promote linguistic balance within the Secretariat by improving the English language skills of its staff and the staff of missions to the United Nations. The ELP at Headquarters offers regular core English courses (levels one through eight), which are designed to improve general English language proficiency, as well as communication courses and special courses to meet both the work-related needs and cultural interests of members of the United Nations community. 

Resources

 

A verbatim reporter at work

UN language staff come from all over the globe and make up a uniquely diverse multilingual community. What unites them is the pursuit of excellence in their respective areas, the excitement of being at the forefront of international affairs and the desire to contribute to the realization of the purposes of the United Nations, as outlined in the Charter, by facilitating communication and decision-making. They include Production editorsEditorsInterpretersTranslatorsVerbatim Reporters, Editorial and Desktop Publishing Assistants, and Language Reference Assistants. Visit our YouTube channel.

Gender-inclusive language

Given the key role that language plays in shaping cultural and social attitudes, using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias. Being inclusive from a gender language perspective means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. These Guidelines include recommendations and materials, created to help United Nations staff use gender-inclusive language in any type of communication — oral or written, formal or informal — and are a useful starting point for anyone.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.