What is International Mother Language Day?

We're in the business of teaching English. If you can speak English, it means you can live and work in loads of different places around the world, and have opportunities that you might not get if you only spoke your home language.

But one of the things I learned in university is that all languages are important, especially those spoken only by a small group, or in a specific place. Language is a carrier of culture and history. Our identities as citizens of a country or members of a family are tied to the language we learned first.

International Mother Language Day was created by UNESCO to promote the teaching of mother languages, and especially printing books and teaching in these languages. February 21 was chosen as the date because of an important event in Bangladesh's political history.  The day is also a public holiday in Bangladesh.

In 1952, protests were held in East Pakistan (which is now Bangladesh) against a ruling that Urdu was the region's only official language. The government outlawed the protests, but the students carried on. Police opened fire on the protesters, killing four students. The unrest carried on for four years, until in 1956 Bengali became an official language of Pakistan.

Shaheed Minar, erected in Bangladesh in memory of those who died in the 1952 protests

In Bangladesh, February 21st is a day where those who died in the protests are remembered.  For the rest of the world, it is a day to celebrate our mother languages, whatever they might be, and do what we can to promote the literature, culture and teaching of these languages.

This year, UNESCO are taking International Mother Language Day one step further by starting a project to create a digital library of books and textbooks that are written in world languages. UNESCO supports multilingual education in schools - this is education in a person's mother language, the language of your country, and an international language such as English, French or Spanish.

In my school in South Africa I was educated in English, but I was also taught in Afrikaans (the mother language of my parents), and in Xhosa (a regional African language widely spoken in Cape Town). Which languages were you taught when you were in school?

(featured image courtesy of UNESCO)

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