The International Organizations and their Official Languages. Do we need to add more?

April 17, 2012 § 7 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

We all know that there are many international organizations that deal with just about anything we can think of; some of them are regional and some are global. These are the official languages for some of the most influential and widespread international organizations:

Languages of the United Nations (UN)
The original official languages of the UN were English, Chinese, French, and Russian, the languages of the permanent members of the Security Council. The choice was largely political.

  • English      was widely used as an international language, as it was the dominant      language of the United States, a superpower.
  • Chinese      was the language of a major power as well as the language with the      greatest number of speakers.
  • Russian      was the language of one of the major powers even though it was not      particularly widely spoken outside of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
  • French      was chosen because it was still widely considered the international language      of diplomacy.
  • Spanish      and Arabic were added in 1973, because they      were the official languages of many nations.
  • English,      French      and Spanish      are the working languages of the UN General Assembly.
  • English      and French      are the working languages of the UN Security Council.

Some think that the UN spends too much money and effort on translation and interpretation and that it should adopt one official language. Others think that there should be more official languages. For instance, there is pressure to add Hindi.

Languages of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
The two official languages of NATO are English and French.

Languages of the Organization of American States (OAS)
The official languages of the OAS are English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Languages of the European Union (EU)
The EU has 23 official languages and three official alphabets (Latin, Greek and Cyrillic) for its 27 member states. There are three working languages in the European Commission: English, French and German. The 23 languages create 253 potential two-language combinations. As a result, the European Parliament employs over 4,000 translators and interpreters.

Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish,
Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Do you think it necessary to have as many languages as the EU, or should international organizations go the UN way and have a few official languages. I would like to hear your opinion as interpreters and translators.


§ 7 Responses to The International Organizations and their Official Languages. Do we need to add more?

  • Maria Blagojevic says:

    Hm, I’d say it depends on the point of view: the more languages there are the more work for us, on the other hand it makes the organization of such conferences awfully complicated. Languages being my work, life and love, I wouldn’t mind the variety of them, on the contrary. I strongly believe we all get richer with every language we add to our language combination. The only disadvantage for the international organizations would be costs!

  • Julia Poger says:

    As someone famous once said (and I can’t believe I get to be the one mentioning this first, it’s so well known!), in your native language you say what you want; in a foreign language you say what you can. Unfortunately, I have heard that even in the EU many people able to speak their own languages thanks to interpreters, tend to speak English anyway. The same goes for the UN: many non-anglophones speak English during meetings. As an interpreter who likes to work, I regret this, as the speakers’ personalities, arguments, message, etc. certainly don’t come through. OTOH, as a person from an anglophone country, I appreciate the advantage this gives us in negotiations… 😉

  • Nimo Ali says:

    I think adding more languages gives to people who only speak one language the opportunity to get engaged in variety of issues. Availability of interpreter/translator who are equipped with languages enables the organisation to have access in wider dimension. The only side effect will be using more resources.

  • Amazing says:

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  • John Brown says:

    Hello, I work as a freelance translator for JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which provides technical assistance to developing countries around the world. This organization has used US English until recently but it is now wondering whether it should switch to UK English.
    I would appreciate any comments you may have about this.

  • Maria Blagojevic says:

    … and in the meantime EU has 24 official languages 😉

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