1 July 2014 - Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language – that goes to his heart.”
This sentiment was highlighted by an essay competition co-organized by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational Services, Inc., where 4,00 students worldwide – from freshmen to doctoral candidates, submitted essays to the “Many Languages, One World” contest.
From an Arabic-speaking Chinese woman, to a Mandarin-speaking Malagasy lady, or even a Spanish-speaking Portuguese gentleman from France, the students bridged the divide of language and culture through their essays.
60 winning authors were brought to New York by their love of languages, and their enthusiasm for global citizenship. Unlike a traditional essay competition where entrants write in their native language, participants in the UN Academic Impact contest were not only required to write in one of the six UN official languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – but one that was not their mother tongue or the medium of instruction of their education.
“It's not just the acquired fluency in a foreign language that has astonished us in so many of the entries,” said Ramu Damodaran, Deputy Director of the Outreach Division and Chief of UNAI at the UN Department of Public Information, commenting on the outcome of the essay contest. “[It is] the thoughtful and reasoned perspectives they bring, making elusive concepts almost colloquial,” he stressed.
"Multilingualism does much more than merely allow us to communicate with each other,” said Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and Coordinator for Multilingualism at the UN, and he added “it enriches our understanding of each other and the human experience.”
One of the contest winners, Karim Ibrahim, born in Portugal to an Egyptian father and mother of South-African and Portuguese descent, brought up in France, attended school exchange in Hong Kong, and now studies in London proudly expressed this view by saying, “My experience has taught me to lift myself up beyond national borders and to better understand other parts of the world.”
UNAI, launched by the Secretary-General in 2010, is a global initiative that aligns institutions of higher learning and research with the UN and counts 1,000 members in 120 countries. In this context a youth forum, kicked off on June 27, launched 16 months of planned events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.
Source: UN News Centre
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