Close this search box.

2008 International Year of Languages

With 2008 being the International Year of Languages, I thought I’d wish a happy birthday to the UN, and do my part to spread the word about their language initiatives.

October 24, 2008 marks the 63rd anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, written in 1945 in San Francisco by UN delegate representatives from 50 countries and ratified on October 24 by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a majority of other member countries. United Nations Day has been celebrated since 1948 with meetings, discussions, and exhibits detailing the past and present achievements and future goals of the organization.

In May of last year, the General Assembly of the UN proclaimed 2008 the International Year of Languages. Under the slogan Languages Matter, the UN launched a number of events and exhibitions ranging from courses in Chinese and Arabic calligraphy to surveys and studies conducted internally to determine the number of languages spoken by UN staff. While the official languages are English, French, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic, in the New York headquarters (pictured above) alone, the total number of languages spoken proved to be over 350!

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) goals for the International Year of Languages are to support and encourage language-related activities, to foster respect for and protection of all languages, and especially to help preserve endangered languages, linguistic diversity, and multilingualism. UNESCO particularly encourages individual outreach initiatives in the fields of education, social and human sciences, and scientific research.

UNESCO has chosen a great time to celebrate language diversity. Though difficult to calculate the exact number of languages spoken in the world, it is estimated to be about 7,000, not including dialects. In spite of the large linguistic assortment, it is also estimated that 96% of those languages are spoken by 4% of the population, with Asian and African languages accounting for the widest array. Also, if you take into account the astounding rate at which endangered languages cease to exist – about one language every two weeks! – UNESCO’s goal of protecting and fostering linguistic diversity is a welcome one in the face of ever-increasing globalization and homogeneity.

Other Resources

November is Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month has officially been celebrated in the United States each November since 1990. This is recognized on the federal, state, and local levels with special programming and events to highlight and honor the traditions, culture, history, and...

Learn More

5 Fascinating Facts About the Hawaiian Language: A Look into its History and Significance

Hawaiian language, also known as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is one of the two official languages of Hawaii. While the language was banned in schools after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1896, there have been revitalization efforts since 1978. Today...

Learn More

What is Heritage Language?

Individuals who speak multiple languages or live in multilingual households may have a “heritage language.” This term describes the language the individual speaks or hears at home, but it is not the dominant language spoken in the community. In the...

Learn More

Contact Us

Get Started Today

Interested in our language services? Complete the form or call us during business hours (9 AM to 6:00 PM ET) at 800.895.8210.

Preparing for your test?

View our test prep materials or FAQ’s for common questions about taking a test.