International Mother Language Day Quiz!

Congratulations to the five winners of the Mother Language Day Quiz!


672 participants from all around the globe took the Mother Language Day quiz in English and French. Around 140 mother tongues and 112 countries were represented.


We are pleased to announce the five winners with the highest scores:


  • Muhammad Atallah Abdelaal (from Egypt, mother tongue Arabic)
  • Cristian Zuccarini (from Italy, mother tongue Italian)
  • Xuelun Yang (from China, mother tongue Chinese)
  • Efehi Ubebe (from Nigeria, mother tongues Edo/Bini and Itsekiri)
  • Swaprabha Chattopadhyay (from India, mother tongue Bengali)


They will receive a copy of the Charter of the United Nations signed by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Ms. Tatiana Valovaya.  

Below you can find the quiz with the correct answers highlighted in green, and interesting facts about different languages from around the world.


  1. In how many languages is the Charter of the United Nations available?
  1. less than 10
  2. between 10 and 20
  3. between 20 and 30
  4. more than 30

The UN Charter is available in 39 languages in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and many other official and non-official translations exist in other languages.


  1. How is Arabic written?
  1. vertically in columns going from top to bottom
  2. vertically in columns going from bottom to top
  3. horizontally from right to left
  4. horizontally from left to right

Arabic, Hebrew, Pashto, Persian, Urdu, and Sindhi are the most widespread right to left writing systems in modern times.


  1. To which language family does Arabic belong?
  1. Afro-Asiatic
  2. Nilo-Saharan languages
  3. Turkic languages
  4. Arawakan languages

Arabic belongs to Semitic languages, which form a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. Members of the Semitic group are spread throughout North Africa and Southwest Asia and have played preeminent roles in the linguistic and cultural landscape of the Middle East for more than 4,000 years.


  1. How many ways of pronouncing “ough” in English do you think there are?
  1. 12
  2. 9
  3. 7
  4. 5

There are nine ways of pronouncing “ough” in English.

This sentence, for instance, contains all forms of “ough”: “A rough-coated dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed”.


  1. There is no word in English that rhymes with “month”:
  1. True
  2. False

There is no word in English that rhymes with “month”.


  1. Which of the following French words are “false friends” in English and French? (“False friends” are words that look similar in two languages but have a different meaning.)
  1. Librairie
  2. Éventuellement
  3. Actuel
  4. All the options

All the options are false friends in English and French. “Librairie” means bookstore (not library), “éventuellement” means finally (not probably) and “actuel” means current (not actual).


  1.  What are these characters called in French?

  1. Les Pitoufs
  2. Les Smurfs
  3. Les Schtroumpfs
  4. Les Puffos

The Smurfs were created by a Belgian comic artist Peyo (a.k.a. Pierre Culliford) in 1958.  They are called “les Schtroumpfs” in his native language: French.


  1. Approximately how many words in Spanish are of Arabic origin?
  1. 4,000
  2. 1,000
  3. 500
  4. 300

In Spanish 4,000 words come from Arabic, which represents almost 8% of its lexis.


  1. The letter ñ is exclusive to the Spanish language - True or False?'
  1. True
  2. False

We can find the letter ñ not only in Spanish, but also in other European languages like Gallaecian and Asturian, and in many Latin American indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Otomí, Quechua, Amara, Mapuche and Guaraní.


  1. The character means "tree" in Chinese. Which one of the four characters below means "forest"?

” means ”root” or “volume”, “” means “difficulty”, “” means “the end”


  1. In English, a duck goes "quack quack". What is the equivalent sound of a duck in Chinese?
  1. pēk pēk
  2. mac mac
  3. gá gá
  4. quek quek

In Chinese the duck goes “gá gá”. The sound system varies from language to language. When people imitate animal sounds, they include sounds from that language. For example, in French the duck goes “coin coin”.


  1. To which pre-Columbian language does “Pytyvõ” (meaning: help) belong?
  1. Guaraní
  2. Aymara
  3. Quechua
  4. Náhuatl

“Pytyvõ” means “help” in Guaraní, an indigenous language that is mostly spoken in Paraguay, and in some places in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.


  1. What does this Quechua sentence “Geneva suyumanta kani” mean?
  1. I love Geneva
  2. I'm from Geneva
  3. It's sunny in Geneva
  4. Geneva is an international city

The native Quechua language was the administrative language of the Inca state, and is still spoken by people in Peru (about 8 million), Ecuador (nearly 2 million), and Bolivia (about 1 million). Some words that have been assimilated into the English language include puma, condor, quinoa, llama and coca.


  1. The word “billabong”, derived from indigenous Australian Aboriginal languages, is used to describe which of the following:
  1. A watercourse which flows only after it rains.
  2. A permanent waterhole which is full of water.
  3. A river in which crocodiles roam.
  4. A meandering stream from which you can fish.


  1. How many indigenous languages does Colombia have?
  1. 95
  2. 65  
  3. 30
  4. 10

In Colombia, there are 68 native languages spoken by 850,000 people. We can find 65 indigenous languages and two creole languages spoken by Afro descendants.


  1. The idiomatic expression “не фунт изюма” (literally “not a pound of raisins") in Russian means that something is very
  1. bad.
  2. important.
  3. tasty.
  4. interesting.

Raisins have always been a favorite delicacy in Russia. They were added to ritual foods, such as Easter cake – kulich. However, grapes do not grow in central Russia, so all raisins were imported and were quite expensive in those times. Raisins were bought in quite small units – pounds, compared to basic food, and only very rich people were able to afford such a purchase. So, it was possible to cook Easter cakes without raisins once a year and not to spoil festivities because of their scarcity. Raisins were desirable, but not indispensable, compared to more important products in a household. That is why raisins became the hero of this Russian idiom.


  1. In which city do Germans say "moin" as a greeting?
  1. Hamburg
  2. Bonn
  3. Hanover
  4. Munich

The most common way that Germans greet each other is “guten Tag”, which means “Hello” or “good day”. But in north Germany, “moin” is used primarily, including in Hamburg Bremen and also in the western parts of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as well as in the northern parts of Lower Saxony (e.g. Hanover).

The term “moin” derives from “moien”, which means “good”. The word can also be found in Luxembourg, where they would say “Moïen” to greet people. The full expression should be “Moien Dag”: “Moin” and “Moin moin” are just abbreviations. It is a colloquial expression that may be used at any moment of the day, but surely not with strangers.


   18. What does the idiomatic expression 月が綺麗 (literally “the moonlight is so beautiful”) mean in Japanese?

  1. How are you?
  2. I like you.
  3. Long time no see.
  4. I am really enjoying nature.

The Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki (1868–1912) of the Meiji period used this expression to mean “I like/love you.” It sounds literary and romantic. At the time, Japanese people were reserved about confessing love directly.



   19. Which is the fastest-growing European language spoken in the world after English?

  1. Portuguese
  2. French
  3. Polish
  4. Spanish
  5. Russian

Portuguese is the fastest-growing European language thanks to the rapidly growing populations of Portuguese speakers in Brazil and Africa. According to UNESCO, the language has high growth potential as an “international communication language in Southern Africa and South America”.


    20. A single common term has been found to be used across all five continents by speakers of many languages. Which one of the following is it?

  1. OK
  2. huh
  3. mama
  4. wow

According to a recent study, “huh” appears to be universal. Scientists recorded bits of informal language from five continents, and of the 31 dialects they compiled, all had this term in common.


    21. What does “ojalá” mean in Spanish? 

  1. Forcefully 
  2. Thankfully 
  3. Usefully 
  4. Hopefully 

 “Ojalá” comes from the Arabic expression “إن شاء الله “ (in sha'a Allah) meaning “God willing”.  


    22. In which African regions is Spanish spoken?   

  1. Eritrea and Ethiopia 
  2. Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara 
  3. South Africa and Nigeria 
  4. Djibouti and Morocco 

In Africa, apart from Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara, Spanish is also spoken by autonomous communities of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco, and in the Canary Islands.  


    23. The highest number of French words that are borrowed from other languages come from   

  1. Italian
  2. Ancient Greek
  3. English
  4. Arabic

About 34% of the words that French has borrowed from other languages come from ancient Greek, 23% from English, 11% from Italian, 5.5% from German and 5% from Arabic and other Afro-Asian languages. Latin is excluded from the previous list since a large part of the words of this language do not come from a borrowing, but from a natural evolution of the language.


    24. Hindi is one of many languages spoken in India. In which other countries is it also spoken?   

  1. Guyana 
  2. Fiji  
  3. Nepal 
  4. Mauritius 
  5. Tobago 
  6. All of  the above 

Hindi is spoken in India and in other countries like Mauritius, Guyana, Fiji, Tobago and Nepal. 


    25. In Russian, the letter Ъ is known as what type of Cyrillic character?  

  1. soft sign
  2. hard sign
  3. upper sign
  4. low sign

The Cyrilic character Ъ has no phonetic value of its own and is purely an orthographic device. Its function is to separate some prefixes ending in consonants from subsequent morphemes that begin with iotated vowels (in Slavic languages, iotation is a form of palatalization which is also called in Russian a “soft pronouncing” of consonants). The consonants, “protected” with this sign from followed iotated vowels, pronounced without palatalization, in a so called “hard” way, which is why this sign has this name.