A language student speaks to the UN General Assembly in New York City

By Cromwell Salvatera

24 November, 2016

Tallulah Bur is a University of Sydney student that wrote an essay about multilingualism. The essay was so profound that the United Nations invited Tallulah to speak at the General Assembly. Here is her story.

 Tallulah at the United Nations General Assembly

Tallulah studied Spanish here at the University of Sydney's School of Languages and Cultures . Her first Spanish teacher Dolores Turro described Tallulah and her group as special and above average. Tallulah wrote an essay about the power and effectiveness of multilingualism in fostering global citizenship at the level of cultural understanding.

Tallulah's love of languages started with humble beginnings. Her family is from Paris and they are native French speakers. There is a natural acceptance that speaking more than one language is the norm and being multi-lingual is encouraged. With these family values, Tallulah enrolled in Spanish and excelled in her third language after French and English.

The ELS Education Services Inc. and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) organised an essay competition. The organisers invited university students from around the world to submit an essay examining global citizenship and cultural understanding. There are two challenges, the essay has to be written in one of the six official UN languages, and in a language that was not their first. Tallulah could’ve written the essay in English (her second language), but she wrote the essay in Spanish.

Out of 3,600 entrants, Tallulah was one of the 60 students that won the competition.

Watch Tallulah's UN General Assembly speech

As one of the essay winners, Tallulah was invited to travel to New York to participate in the Many Languages One World Global Youth Forum at Hofstra University. She worked with other students to develop action plans focused on the Sustainable Development Goals of the UNAI and at the end of the week delivered a speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Her hard work studying Spanish here at the School of Languages combined with her passion for a better world came to fruition. In her early 20s, Tallulah did something that not a lot people have done. She delivered a message of hope and optimism to the world. 

“Speaking at the United Nations was such a unique and incredible opportunity and I hope my experience encourages other students with multi-lingual abilities to participate in the future,” said Tallulah.

Tallulah’s message was profound, maybe being multi-lingual is one of the most effective paths to peace and sustainability around the world. We need to be aware of this and perhaps accept this thought. Perhaps being mono-lingual is not the best way to deal with issues the world is facing, because the communication is one-sided, where depth and meaning can be lost in translation. Learning another language and understanding another culture gives one a new lens and a new point of view where one can understand another person’s thoughts, hopes and dreams. 

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