Promoting Multilingualism

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The world celebrates multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as promotes an equal use of all six official languages. 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. The balance among the six official languages has been an ongoing concern of the Secretary-General. Numerous activities have been undertaken, from 1946 to the present, to promote the use of the official languages to ensure that the United Nations, its goals, and actions are understood by the widest possible public. The question of how to define bilingualism or multilingualism has engaged researchers for a very long time. Some researchers have favored a narrow definition of bilingualism and argued that only those individuals who are very close to two monolinguals in one should be considered bilingual. More recently, however, researchers who study bilingual and multilingual communities around the world have argued for a broad definition that views bilingualism as a common human condition that makes it possible for an individual to function, at some level, in more than one language. The key to this very broad and inclusive definition of bilingualism is ‘more than one. From the perspective of this framework, a bilingual individual is not necessarily a bilingual (an individual with native competency in two languages) but a bilingual of a specific type who, along with other bilinguals of many different types, can be classified along a continuum. Some bilinguals possess very high levels of proficiency in both languages in the written and the oral modes. Others display varying proficiencies in comprehension and/or speaking skills depending on the immediate area of experience in which they are called upon to use their two languages.

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