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What multilingualism means to us

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.

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 and are used in day-to-day professional exchanges (resolution 2 (I) of 1 February 1946).

Multilingualism Champions initiative

In his report on multilingualism (A/73/761), the Secretary-General of the United Nations reaffirmed his vision of a multilingual Organization, shaped by its universality, its presence on all continents and its unique linguistic regime. He recalled that the Organization's multilingualism must also be reflected in its internal operating procedures in order to support the implementation of its mandates and improve its efficiency, performance and transparency.

The Secretary-General's report also mentioned persistent difficulties in implementing multilingualism in our daily work and stressed the need to raise awareness among staff of its importance. It is in thin spirit that the Director-General of UN Geneva launched the Multilingualism Champions initiative to give multilingualism additional impetus by publicly demonstrating the importance we attach to it. To this end, all heads of United Nations agencies in Geneva were invited to commit to become Multilingualism Champions and undertake one action every year to promote multilingualism within their organizations.

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Multilingualism at UN Geneva

At the United Nations Office at Geneva, our commitment to multilingualism remains at the heart of all our operations. Our staff hail from more than 100 countries and speak nearly 70 languages. This diversity is invaluable. The Office continues to make strides to meet the expanding meeting and documentation requests for all human rights bodies, the United Conference on Trade and Development, and the Economic Commission for Europe.

It has made significant progress in enhancing the efficiency of its translation services. This has been accomplished through a far-reaching training strategy and promotion of the use of translation technology among translators in coordination with New York Headquarters, the United Nations Office in Vienna and other international organizations.

The United Nations Office at Geneva relies on UNTERM, a multilingual terminology management system consisting of hundreds of terminology files in official languages, making it possible to conduct searches.

UNOG has been celebrating language days since 2010 following the launch of the Language Days at the United Nations initiative. Round tables on multilingualism are organized each year. The Office also provides language support to human rights missions or fields visits.

Multilingualism Action Team

The Multilingualism Action Team supports and promotes multilingualism. Every division has a representative whom staff may contact if they need support or guidance on the topic of multilingualism. It proposes concrete actions and provides advice to the Director-General, with a focus on supporting multilingualism by increasing staff awareness of the topic; building staff skills; and increasing the use of multilingualism in UNOG’s work.

Ms. Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of UN Geneva, has appointed Ms. Kira Kruglikova, Director of the Division of Conference Management, to serve as the UNOG focal point on multilingualism. Ms. Kruglikova also serves as chair of the Multilingualism Action Team and has designated a staff member to act as secretary.

The Team meets quarterly. The secretary proposes an agenda and circulates it to all members of the Team at least a week before the meeting. She/he records key conclusions and recommendations.

The Team reports at least once a year to the Director-General on the main issues faced by UNOG in terms of multilingualism, as well as progress made.

The UN Geneva multilingualism logo in all six languages.

Learning languages at UN Geneva

Language courses in the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) are offered to promote linguistic balance within the Secretariat and to improve the language capabilities of course participants working in a multicultural and multilingual environment. The purpose of these courses is to provide staff members with the opportunity to achieve proficiency in the official languages.