How Many Languages Are Used at the United Nations?

On October 24, 1945, the United Nations (U.N.) was established when France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States created a new global peacekeeping organization. These five countries — along with 46 other nations — agreed to work towards maintaining world peace after the end of World War II.

In addition to its mission of promoting international peace, the United Nations also aims to foster better relationships among nations. Through its affiliated agencies, the U.N. also strives to advance social progress, improve living standards, and protect human rights worldwide.

Currently, the U.N. consists of 193 member nations, encompassing every independent country in the world except Vatican City.

The United Nations Headquarters is located in New York City. It also has significant offices in Geneva, Switzerland; Nairobi, Kenya; and Vienna, Austria.

The 193 member nations represent diverse populations across the globe, speaking hundreds of different languages. However, the U.N. recognizes only six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

These six languages correspond to the five languages spoken by the original member nations, with Arabic being added later in response to popular demand. The official languages are used in U.N. meetings and for official documents.

These languages serve as either the primary or secondary language for approximately 2.8 billion people, which is roughly half of the world’s population. Moreover, they are the official language of more than half of the U.N.’s member nations.

When a representative from a country addresses the U.N., they must speak in one of the six official languages or provide interpretation from their native language into one of the official languages. The U.N. then provides interpretation from the official language used into the other five official languages.

The U.N. applies a similar approach to official documents. A document is not published until it is available in all six official languages.

One of the frequent challenges at the U.N. arises from the fact that it is home to 193 member nations, each with its own unique cultural norms. Naturally, people behave and communicate differently in different countries.

What may be considered polite in one country might be offensive in another. To prevent international incidents, the U.N. offers special language lessons to up to 10,000 individuals each year.

For instance, these lessons cover topics such as how to interrupt others gracefully. The classes also teach four levels of politeness, ranging from very wordy to very direct.

Try It Out

Are you interested in exploring foreign languages? Make sure to try out the following activities with a friend or family member:

If you want to expand your vocabulary in foreign languages, there are several ways to do so. If you are already exposed to multiple languages either at home or through school, you are off to a great start. In today’s globalized world, knowing more than one language is becoming increasingly important, especially in the context of a global economy. To begin, you can write a brief paragraph about yourself, including your name and some personal details. Once you have your paragraph ready, you can use Babel Fish to translate it into various other languages, up to a dozen.

Additionally, you can follow the UN’s example of politeness by learning how to say “please” and “thank you” in different languages. For instance, in German, “please” is “bitte” and “thank you” is “danke.” Online translators can be used to learn these phrases in other languages of your choice.

If you enjoy numbers, you can also learn how to count to ten in different languages such as French, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish.

For more information and resources, you can refer to the following sources:



– (accessed 19 May, 2023)


1. How many languages are spoken at the U.N.?

There are six official languages spoken at the United Nations: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. These languages were chosen based on the number of speakers and the influence of the countries they represent. The use of multiple languages ensures that all member states can participate fully and effectively in the organization’s work.

2. Why are there six official languages at the U.N.?

The choice of six official languages at the United Nations reflects the organization’s commitment to inclusivity and equal representation. English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic were selected because they are widely spoken and represent countries with significant global influence. By using these languages, the U.N. aims to ensure that all member states can express themselves and be understood during discussions and negotiations.

3. Are there any plans to add more languages at the U.N.?

While there have been discussions about adding more languages to the official list at the United Nations, there are no concrete plans to do so at the moment. The addition of more languages would require significant resources and could potentially create logistical challenges. However, the U.N. continues to work towards promoting multilingualism and providing translation services to accommodate the diverse linguistic needs of its member states.

4. How does interpretation work at the U.N. with multiple languages?

Interpretation plays a crucial role at the United Nations to ensure effective communication among member states. Highly skilled interpreters work in soundproof booths and listen to the speaker through headsets. They then interpret the speech into the desired language, which is transmitted to the delegates through their headsets. This simultaneous interpretation allows participants to understand and engage in discussions in their preferred language. The U.N. places great emphasis on accurate and reliable interpretation to facilitate meaningful dialogue and decision-making.

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