February 21- International Mother Language Day

3min ⏰  

“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.”

Nelson Mandela

Mother tongue or Native language, which is also known as the first language, is “the first language that you learn when you are a baby, rather than a language learned at school or as an adult.”[1]

Every year on 21 February, the world celebrates International Mother Language Day, which was established at the initiative of Bangladesh by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1999. This Day is an opportunity to recognize and promote the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity and multilingualism for peaceful and sustainable societies.[2]

It is within UNESCO’s mandate for peace that it works to maintain the differences in languages and cultures that encourage tolerance and respect for others. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.[3]

The Importance of Mother Language-based Education

According to research results, one of the main factors for inclusion and quality learning is having access to education in one’s mother tongue. It also advances learning outcomes and academic performance and plays a vital role in development. It is really crucial in the learning process, especially in primary school, to avoid knowledge gaps and increase the speed of learning and comprehension. And mother language-based education is the key to this integrity.

And most importantly, multilingual education based on the mother tongue empowers all learners to take part in society fully. It fosters mutual understanding and respect for one another and helps preserve the wealth of cultural and traditional heritage that is embedded in every language around the world.[4]

Global Linguistic Diversity at Risk!

There is still a long way to go before reaching the point in which all learners attain their right to education in their mother tongue. In most countries around the globe, most of the students are taught in a language other than their mother tongue, which leads to compromising their ability to learn effectively.

Approximately 40% of the world’s population does not have access to an education in their first language. There are about 7,000 languages spoken around the world today. Yet, since more and more languages disappear at an alarming rate, linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened. And when a language disappears, all its cultural and intellectual heritage is buried with it.

UNESCO tries to share good practices in bilingual and multilingual education and mother tongue instruction via its normative frameworks for language policy and education. It works with Member States to integrate multilingual education into curriculums and education systems.[5]

2023 Celebrations[6]

The 24th edition of International Mother Language Day will focus on the theme ‘multilingual education – a necessity to transform education’.

Multilingual education based on the mother tongue facilitates access to and inclusion in learning for population groups that speak non-dominant languages, languages of minority groups, and indigenous languages. This year’s event, organized by UNESCO on 21 February, will explore and debate the potential of multilingualism to transform education from a lifelong learning perspective and in different contexts. The discussions will be based on the following three inter-connected themes:

  • Enhancing multilingual education as a necessity to transform education in multilingual contexts from early childhood education and well beyond;
  • Supporting learning through multilingual education and multilingualism in our fast-changing global contexts and in crisis situations, including emergencies contexts;
  • Revitalizing languages that are disappearing or are threatened with extinction.

By: Touska Gholami Khaljiri

[1] Cambridge dictionary – https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mother-tongue

[2] https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/why-mother-language-based-education-essential

[3] https://www.unesco.org/en/days/mother-language

[4] https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/why-mother-language-based-education-essential

[5] https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/why-mother-language-based-education-essential

[6] https://www.unesco.org/en/days/mother-language