• 24th April, 2013

The language of diplomacy

The UN

Who here had French classes while growing up? (Memories of singing Frère Jacques over and over again at family get-togethers will haunt me for the rest of my life.)
And, who has noticed a shift from the importance of learning French towards learning other languages such as Spanish, or even Mandarin?

This shift is not only being noticed in our primary schools, but also in the heart of Geneva. And, some say it’s about time.

Take the European Union, for example:

The EU

An estimated €300m is spent annually on translating between its 23 official languages, yet whether the French like it or not, English (or ‘Globish’ as some people prefer to call it) is by far the most commonly used language – unofficially, of course.

So, why are we sticking with French?

The UN

The UN, in comparison, has just six official and two working languages: English and French. French has traditionally been known as “the language of diplomacy”, and yet with just 74m native speakers, it bears no comparison to the language giants such as Portuguese, Spanish, and Hindi. Saying that though, while French has geography on its side – remember, this is a language which is widely spoken throughout African nations and globally important organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières – there are certainly some strong arguments to keep this “tradition” alive.


People in Geneva are talking about a shift in power; a shift which, in many people’s opinion, should be geared in the direction of Spanish. Spanish-speaking countries have one of the fastest-growing global markets, and actively take part in nearly all international bodies. Latin America is a force to be reckoned with and some have even noticed Spanish being the dominant language in certain offices in Geneva.

French vs. Spanish

As long as Geneva plays host to some of the most important institutions, French isn’t going anywhere. However, people can be heard whispering in the corridors about a fairer language distribution, so perhaps it is about time for a language reshuffle at the UN.

What do you think? Is Spanish the new black? 

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