On October 24, 1945, the United Nations (U.N.) was born when France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States created a new international peacekeeping organization. These five countries — along with 46 others — committed to maintaining world peace after World War II ended.

In addition to seeking international peace, the United Nations also tries to develop better relationships among nations. Through related agencies, the U.N. also promotes social progress, higher standards of living and human rights around the world.

Today, the U.N. is made up of 193 member nations. This includes every independent nation in the world except for Vatican City.

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

The 193 member nations represent populations around the world that speak hundreds of different languages. However, the U.N. has only six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

These languages represent the five languages of the original member nations. Arabic was added later by popular request. The six official languages are used at U.N. meetings and for official documents.

These languages are the primary or secondary language for approximately 2.8 billion people (or about half of the world population). They are also the official language of more than half of the U.N.’s member nations.

When a representative of a country speaks at the U.N., he or she must either speak in one of the six official languages or provide interpretation from the language used into one of the six official languages. The U.N. then provides interpretation from the official language used into the other five official languages.

The U.N. treats official documents in a similar way. Until a document is available in all six official languages, it is not published.

One of the special issues that arises often at the U.N. is the fact that it’s home to 193 member nations, each of which has its own unique cultural norms. Naturally, people do and say things differently in different countries.

What may be polite in one country may be offensive in another. To help avoid international incidents, the U.N. gives up to 10,000 people special language lessons each year.

For example, one lesson teaches how to interrupt people gracefully. Classes also teach four levels of politeness, from very wordy to very direct.

 

40 Join the Discussion

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  1. WE LOVED the information and learning more about different languages through the “Try it out!” section. We learned how to count to 10 and say a few things such as “excuse me” and “I love you” in French, and we are going to try them out around our school today. :) We even have someone who is going to tell someone she is beautiful! :) Thanks for another great wonder!!!

    • Happy Monday, Kerrick Elementary School! We always LOVE getting Wonder comments from you and hearing all the amazing ways you guys learn from the Wonders of the Day® you visit!

      Here is something special we’d like to say to you, our Wonder Friends, in French: Ayez un jour splendide! :-)

    • It’s a GREAT day in Wonderopolis, isn’t it, Missy? We’re so glad you stopped by for a visit and shared your comment with us! You’ll have to check back tomorrow to see if you were right about your guess! :-)

    • We love that you use the clues to try to guess some of the upcoming Wonders, Missy! You are a super smart Wonder Friend…we’ll have to see if you were right about this guess tomorrow! :-)

    • That’s GREAT, Leilani! Thank you for leaving us this super comment today and for letting us know a little about your family and your heritage! :-)

    • That’s TWO guesses that tomorrow’s Wonder will be about graffiti, Tyler! You and another Wonder Friend, Missy, both think it will be! We’ll all have to check back tomorrow to see! :-)

  2. We thought this was a interesting wonder. 193 is a LOT of countries. We practiced saying hello in French and Spanish.

    • We think that’s AWESOME, Mrs. Glasgow’s class! It’s fun to learn about different languages and cultures, isn’t it? Thank you so much for checking out today’s Wonder! :-)

  3. Hola (hello in Spanish!)!!! Cool. I read this wonder again and it is really cool! Just like Leilani, I am part German too! Like I said earlier, I still think tomorrow’s wonder is about graffiti. I think graffiti is really cool to look at! But, I know never to do graffiti, because it is property vandalism.

    • Hi again, Missy! We think it’s cool that you share something about your heritage with Wonder Friend, Leilani! Thanks for visiting this Wonder TWICE…you are awesome! :-)

    • Hi, Natasha! We had to do a bit more WONDERing about this question! We found several sources that say Mandarin Chinese is the most popular spoken language in the world, followed by either Spanish or English (different sources we visited had different opinions on which one was second to Chinese). Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis and leaving us this GREAT comment! :-)

  4. WOW. Great video.
    I saw lots of people doing their job. I go to Kerrick. Their comment is at the top. I wonder what the next wonder is going to be?

    • We’re glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today, Kole! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave us this super comment…we LOVE Kerrick Elementary School! You guys sure like to WONDER a lot! :-)

  5. Hi! I’m Moa, the one who wrote in the bat section yesterday. I didn’t know there are only 6 languages used in the U.N. I was really interested about how they work together. If you get a letter from Jiwoo Park, that means it’s my friend writing now. But, I have a question. How many countries are there in the world?

    Love, Moa F.

  6. Hi, wonderopolis,
    I am Jiwoo, and I am writing with Moa Fahlstedt. I think lots of languages are In the world. It is sooooo AWESOME that lots of people have different languages. I like Wonderopolis because lots of different videos have interested me!!!!!!!!

    • Hi, Jiwoo! Welcome to Wonderopolis! We’re so glad that we got to meet you and Moa! We think it is really AWESOME that we have two new Wonder Friends in another part of the world! Thank you for visiting us today and for leaving us a comment! :-)

    • Hello, Jonathan! Thanks for letting us know what you think about the U.N. after exploring this Wonder of the Day®! We think you are a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  7. We loved getting a French comment from you! So much so, that we decided to tell you to have a good day as well, but in Italian! :)

    HANNO UN GRANDE GIORNO!!

    Check out: translate.google.com for cool translating tools- they will even read the saying for you in the language you choose!!!

    • Thank you for our cool Italian message, Kerrick Elementary School! We really enjoyed typing different words and sayings into the google translator and hearing the recorded voice say it in Italian! That is a GREAT resource for all Wonder Friends and all languages! :-)

  8. Hi, I’m Moa! Now I know you know Jiwoo!
    She really is interested in Wonderopolis, and she
    is my best friend. I’m with Jiwoo right now in the
    school bus for SFS Seoul Foreign Elementary School!
    Now my friend Ekaterina is saying, “So minty candy!!!”
    Anyways, I am going to write in Wonderopolis EVERY day!

    • Hi, Moa! We’re so glad that you are going to visit Wonderopolis every day and that you are sharing the Wonders of the Day® with your friends! You can ALL learn new things together! Thanks for being such an AWESOME Wonder Friend! We hope you have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • Thanks for leaving us this great comment and also for sharing a little about yourself and your family’s heritage, Sarah! You are an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

  9. Thanks sooooo much! I will always tell friends about Wonderopolis, because you’re……AWESOME!!! I want to be your best WONDER friend! You’re like my best friend!
    Remember, you’re AWESOME. That’s what your friend said, so REMEMBER.
    You are also really good at making new videos. You know I have a new wonder of the day. It’s about learning about planets out of the earth. Do you think that’s a good idea?

  10. Hi, this is Jiwoo.
    What kind of language do you speak?
    I spoke German, but now I don’t.
    I know how to speak English because I lived in California.
    But, I was born in Korea. Bye!

    • Hi, Jiwoo! Thanks for leaving us this AWESOME comment and telling us a little more about you! English is the main language we speak in Wonderopolis, but we are always LEARNING and SHARING, so we like to study many different languages and learn from our Wonder Friends who speak them! :-)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Jiwoo! We know it takes a really special person with a lot of skill to be a translator. You have to be super quick and super careful, so you can keep up with the conversation AND make sure you translate everything correctly! :-)

  11. Ehh? Out of those six I only know English. :) Although my paternal grandmother is part Spanish so she used to teach me when I was a kid. Still, I don’t know how to speak it fluently.
    Here in my country they only teach our native language and English. Bummer. I’d love to learn French as well. :”) Hahaha.

    • It sounds like you’re already on a language roll, Ran! How cool that your family speaks different languages, and we’re glad you’re gearing up to learn French, too! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How many languages are spoken at the U.N.?
  • What are some of the purposes of the U.N.?
  • What are the official languages of the U.N.?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to learn some foreign words and phrases? If you live in a bilingual home or have foreign language instruction at school, you may already be familiar with more than one language.

In today’s multicultural world with a global economy, learning other languages is more important than ever! To get started, write a short paragraph about yourself.

It only needs to be a few short sentences. Just give your name and a few details about yourself.

Once you have it written, type it into Babel Fish and have fun translating it from English into up to a dozen other languages.

When you’re finished, follow the U.N.’s lead on being polite by learning how to say “please” and “thank you” in a couple of different languages. For example, in German, “please” is bitte (bih-tah), and “thank you” is danke (dAHNK-Uh).

If you enjoy counting, you can also learn how to count to 10 in different languages:

 

Still Wondering

Explore National Geographic Xpeditions’ Unions and Alliances lesson to learn more about the United Nations, including its functions and purposes and the broad geographical range of its members.

 

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Wonder What’s Next?

Some people think tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is a crime, while others think it’s art. What will YOU think?

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