Cover image: International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day

Taking place on 21st February every year.

Promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.

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Updated 1 year ago

About the event

International Mother Language Day celebrates linguistic diversity and the importance of preserving mother languages around the world. It is observed annually on February 21st.

The day was proclaimed in 1999 by UNESCO in order to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the world’s thousands of unique languages. It recognises that languages are an integral part of human culture and an important factor in the maintenance of cultural traditions.

In addition to celebrating mother languages, International Mother Language Day also aims to raise awareness about the power of learning different languages for improving intercultural understanding. The day is meant to encourage the use of mother languages in education and in everyday life, as well as to promote language learning and language education.

How to approach it

A good way to start this day would be to see if you have any multilingual students in your class. Students may also have families that speak other languages or grew up in other countries. Here you could create opportunities for them to celebrate and share these languages. This can be done through activities such as allowing them to do a mini language lesson, poetry reading, storytelling, or song in the classroom. 

After this, ask: why is it useful to understand other languages? What is important about learning languages passed down from our families, communities or cultures? Suggest that different ideas and ways of thinking are transferred through languages. Examples of this could be words for specific things in other languages that we don’t have in English. These words may explain concepts we don’t regularly think about. See if members of your class can find some examples either from other languages they speak or from research. 

Finally, discuss with your class about the importance of preserving different languages given their role of storing cultural ideas, worldviews and unique perspectives. A final activity would be to look at some endangered languages around the world and learn a phrase or word from one of them. Examples of endangered languages close to home are Scottish Gaelic or Cornish. Examples from further away might be Native American indigenous languages (such as Potawatomi) or hundreds of others from other continents.

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Conversation starter

Because of the British Empire, English is the world's most widely spoken language. This is because the Empire often forced people to speak English instead of their native languages. This meant many languages were lost. Why may people not want English to be the main language for international business?