Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

How to Learn the UN Languages for Free

According to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “multilingualism is a core value of the United Nations”. Multilingualism provides channels of communication between the UN’s culturally and linguistically diverse Member States. This ensures increased participation of Member States when it comes to issues raised within the domain of the UN, as well as more involvement and greater levels of effectiveness.

There are six official languages of the UN: English, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French and Russian. Following the establishment of the UN, all of the current official languages, except Arabic, were adopted as official languages. English and French were adopted as working languages. Majority of these languages were directly connected to the permanent members of the Security Council (the U.S., Great Britain, China, Russia and France), which hold the veto power. Spanish language was included since it is the second most spoken language in the world, while Arabic was added in order to achieve greater international cooperation. Gradually all official languages became working languages, meaning that they are used in day to day exchanges between the UN professionals.

One of the most important traits of the UN’s work is related to the correct interpretation and translation of these six languages since this enables concise and clear communication regarding issues of global importance. These languages are also often used as diplomatic tools by Member States to clearly deliver their messages and views on certain issues.

Speaking one or two of the official UN languages represents one of the core values of the UN system. If you want to acquire a position or become an interpreter or a linguist within the UN you will have to dedicate some time to learning languages. However, investing in language courses can sometimes be expensive and time-consuming. For this reason many people rely on learning languages online. Therefore, this article offers a brief overview of online learning platforms on which you can learn the UN languages during your spare time and most importantly-for free!


Coursera is one of the biggest providers of online courses across the world. All courses on this learning online platform are taught by top instructors and professors from the world’s best universities and educational institutions. Each course features pre-recorded videos, quizzes and projects. Courses also include assignments and community discussion forums where you are able to connect to thousands of people with similar ideas and discuss course materials and get help. Once you complete a course you are eligible to receive an electronic Course Certificate.

UN languages you can learn on Coursera: English, Spanish and Chinese


EdX was founded by the MIT and Harvard University in 2012. It is one of the world’s largest MOOC providers offering courses from the world’s best universities and institutions. Courses on EdX are available to people residing in every country of the world. The variety of courses cover computer science, engineering, psychology, biology, marketing, languages and much more. This online platform is both nonprofit and open source with more than 130 global partners and it is mainly governed by colleges and universities. This platform also provides an opportunity for educators and technologists to build learning tools and create innovative solutions to benefit people across the globe.

UN languages you can learn on EdX: English, Spanish, French and Chinese


Duolingo is an online language learning platform that provides language courses with speaking, listening, translation and multiple choice tasks at different levels. You can access Duolingo through your desk computer, laptop or mobile phone on a daily basis and instantly check which answers are correct. If you miss an answer, Duolingo will set you up with new challenges to help you improve your progress. The platform also records how many days in a row you have spent learning a certain language and allows you to earn points from your progress.

UN languages you can learn on Duolingo: Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese

Learn a Language

According to the Learn a Language website “Doors open as you partake in language lessons. There may be opportunities for employment. You may get to know some new friends. You develop your brain and can find more personal satisfaction in life…and you can help bridge communication gaps that exist in the world”. This interactive web platform offers audio and visual language training. On this platform you can learn over 1.400 words in a foreign language for free. The website also links you to extensive resources in 19 different languages and offers free learning in the nine languages on its own web based courses.

UN languages you can learn on Learn a Language: English, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, French and Spanish

MIT Open Courseware

The MIT Open Courseware is one of the biggest MOOC providers in the world. The website offers the Global Studies and Languages Section where you can find a variety of courses ranging from Chinese to Economy and Business in Modern China. Courses are designed in a way to help you learn not only the language but also study within the greater cultural context.

UN languages you can learn on the MIT Open Courseware: Chinese, English, Russian, Spanish and French


Alison is also one of the MOOC providers and a language learning platform that offers courses for nine languages taught by the world’s leading experts. On this platform you can find introductory, more advanced and detailed courses. If you complete all modules and score 80% or over on all of your course assignments you are eligible to receive a free certificate.

UN languages you can learn on Alison: English, Chinese, French, Arabic and Spanish


Besides learning written grammar and exercising pronunciation of phrases and words on your own, it is also important to learn how to properly speak a certain language and engage in conversation with a native speaker. Italki is one of the biggest platforms where you can practice language with native speakers online. On this platform you can find native speaking teachers and exchange partners via Skype. You will also have access to learner community where you can connect to other learners and arrange language exchanges with them.

UN languages you can learn on italki: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic

Polyglot Club

The Polyglot Club is a free language exchange community website that connects you to a big number of native speakers of language that you are learning. On this learning platform you are offered a number of options that will help you during the learning process, such as finding language exchange partners, submitting written texts for correction, hanging out in chat rooms and also attending language events and meetings for connecting with more learners.

UN languages you can learn on the Polyglot Club: English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian

About the author

Human Rights Careers

Human Rights Careers (HRC) provides information about online courses, jobs, paid internships, masters degrees, scholarships and other opportunities in the human rights sector and related areas.