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.

 

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