faith in action

Church and Society Addresses Multilingualism, COVID-19, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Two-day Virtual Symposium Highlights Good Health, Well Being and Quality Education Goals

UN virtual symposium Multilingualism 2022

“We affirm that the right to communicate and to access information is a basic human right, essential to human dignity and to a just and democratic society….Global communications justice…is about communication that is just and participatory, equitable and sustainable.” (#8016, 2016 United Methodist Book of Resolutions).

There is clear resolve for the United Methodist Church to pursue communications justice.

Last week, the United Methodist resolve was reinforced at the UN virtual symposium by The Rev. Dr. Liberato Bautista, who is assistant general secretary for United Nations and International Affairs of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church and President of CoNGO — the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.

Emphasizing the role of language and multilingualism in achieving the United Nations Agenda 2030, the symposium focused particularly on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Panelist remarks centered on the theme: Lessons Learned and Looking Forward.

Making the connection between multilingualism, sustainability and how COVID-19 has affected achieving the SDGs, symposium organizers recognize that inclusive dialogue and problem-solving must involve substantive use of multilingualism to ensure that people can understand one another, access information equitably, and participate democratically.

“Be they spoken, written, gestured or embodied, languages are crucial in conveying, and enhancing values that, among others, include diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and the pursuit of peace, prosperity and friendship among peoples and nations, about which the UN is constituted,” said Bautista.

More than 100 attendees participated in the symposium, including staff from the UN Secretariat and specialized agencies, UN officials, agency staff, officials from UN Member States, academics, language professionals, medical professionals, and civil society representatives.

In his remarks, the Rev. Bautista pointed out that while much may have been expressed about COVID-19 in multilateral settings, like at the UN, that is not the case with multilingualism.

“Discussing multilingualism and COVID-19 together, with a keen eye on how they affect the achievement of SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and SDG 4 (Quality Education), is timely, if not urgent,“ Bautista said. “I now see why the work of linguists, interpreters and translators is work that is crucial in the physical, mental, emotional and psychological health, healing and wholeness of the biological body and of the body politic.”

Panelists also explored how the pandemic has impacted multilingual educational initiatives and practices, cross-national responses to multilingual educational challenges spurned on by COVID-19, and the benefit of an assets-based approach on some multilingual learners.

Disrupting the education of hundreds of millions of students, the COVID-19 pandemic affected vulnerable learners the most.

According to the Rev. Bautista, this disruption in education pertains not only to tenets of traditional education, such as literacy and numeracy, but also education for peace, global citizenship, media literacy, and sustainable development.

The Rev. Bautista believes that, “Increasing the use of languages, and their speakers, especially of indigenous and minoritized languages, is crucial.” Earlier in the week, United Methodists participated in the session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in which they asserted the importance of preserving indigenous languages and increasing their speakers, especially among children and youth.

The symposium was a collaboration among these groups: the NGO Committee on Language and Languages, which is a substantive committee of CoNGO, and the Study Group on Language and the United Nations, and made possible by generous support and assistance from the Center for Applied Linguistics, Esperantic Studies Foundation, Springer Nature, Centre for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, Consortium for Language Policy and Planning, and the International Association of Conference Interpreters.

Read Bautista’s full speech here.

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