International Mother Language Day is observed every year on February 21 to promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism around the world. The mother language, or the mother tongue, is typically the language a person learned from birth. Sometimes this is also referred to as their native language, first language, dominant language, home language, or native tongue. (Note, however, that these are not always synonymous terms.)
The annual observation of the International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999. The day itself was chosen because on 21 February 1952, several people in current day Bangladesh sacrificed their lives for their mother language, fighting for Bengali to be granted official status in the country.
This year marks the start of UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032) focusing on prioritizing the empowerment of indigenous language users and recognizing the importance of indigenous languages to social cohesion and inclusion, cultural rights, health , justice, and sustainable development.
Celebrate Linguistic Diversity
The 21st of February is often marked through activities that show the benefits of multilingualism and learning about different languages and cultures through fun activities to help develop curiosity, empathy, and harmony. However you may choose to celebrate the International Mother Language Day, do focus on the linguistic diversity of your students and colleagues, highlight the importance of multilingualism, and encourage students to value and respect all languages. Here are some online resources to help you draw attention to this rich linguistic diversity around the world.
1. COVID-19 and World Languages – How could you say “Wash your hands” in different languages? This resource shows you how you could say this in more than 635 languages.
2. Ethnologue – Read about and research the world’s 7,139 known living languages.
3. International Dialects of English Archive – The celebration of linguistic diversity includes the recognition of the variations that exist within a language. The English language has a range of varieties, sometimes called World Englishes. This is an excellent archive of English language dialects and accents heard around the world.
4. Langscape – Zoom in on any part of an interactive world map to find out what languages are native to that country. Some languages can be explored further by listening to sounds and recordings. Comes with a teacher’s guide of suggestive activities.
5. Language Diversity Index – This resource gives insight into the multicultural nature of countries. Some countries (e.g., Kazakhstan, India) have high linguistic diversity, while others (e.g., Japan, Norway) have low linguistic diversity.
6. Native Land – Indigenous languages are often lost through colonization and globalization. Explore this map to see which languages are native to the areas you identify with/are familiar with. Are those languages still spoken in those (or other) areas?
7. Recording a Dying Language – Ever wondered how languages are recorded and preserved long after their last speaker has died? This national geographic video shows you how Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, worked to keep her language alive. Includes teaching ideas and lesson plans.
8. World Language Map – Explore the world’s languages, some of which are written, a few of which are signed, and most of which are spoken.
How will you/did you celebrate the diversity of languages in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below.