Susana Núñez, Second-level Education Officer, Educate Together
Every 21st February since 2000, International Mother Language Day is observed worldwide. It is a day to raise awareness and celebrate language, cultural diversity and multilingualism around the world.
First approved by UNESCO in 1999 following an initiative by Bangladesh in commemoration of the 1952 killings in Dhaka during the Bangladeshi Language Movement, it was formally recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002.
“Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”
— United Nations International Mother Language Day
This day is of huge importance, particularly in the current globalised world we live in. According to the UNESCO, around 3,000 languages could disappear before the end of the century, at a rate of one every two weeks. For example, between 1950 and 2010, 230 indigenous languages became extinct.
International Mother Language Day highlights the capacity for the promotion of languages and multilingualism to foster inclusion. Notably it also aligns with the Leaving No One Behind promise of the 2030 UN Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, advancing the transmission and preservation of traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.
Of the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world, 6,700 are indigenous, and it is precisely these that are most threatened.
In Educate Together we aim to create and maintain culturally responsive environments, where diversity is recognised and celebrated. Where language is concerned, this is evident in many schools I have visited across the country where murals welcome students and their families, staff and visitors in many different languages. Furthermore, our ethos guide tells us that classrooms should be spaces where cultural differences are perceived as learning opportunities, and staff have, in the past, shared accounts of wonderful activities they use to celebrate language diversity. This year we are inviting all Educate Together schools to share with us, through social media, the many ways in which they celebrate this important day.