The International Mother Language Day 2015 was celebrated yesterday, 21st February. The day was established by UNESCO with the aim of promoting multilingualism and cultural diversity.
The term native language refers to the first language or dialect that a person learns. The term “mother” tongue comes from idea that it is the woman or mother who transmits this native language to the children. It also refers to the language that is best known in the case of children of parents with different languages. This term is also used in the case of a person who knows many languages. It is a language learned naturally rather than taught by a professional.
The importance of the mother tongue, according to UNESCO , deserves much thought and attention. Firstly, languages provide us with an incalculable cultural wealth, it is nothing less than a unique way of interpreting reality, a cultural good which shapes our identity, social integration and communication. UNESCO recognizes that:
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.
International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of International Mother Language Day . This year is also a turning point year for the international community, as the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, when countries will define a new global sustainable development agenda.
The 2015 theme is Inclusive education through language and with it – Languages matter . It is a very complicated and important issue due to the work that lies ahead: teacher training, social awareness and integration of quality educational materials .
Language Education Counts
“Appropriate language education” is considered fundamental to enable learners to benefit from quality education, learn throughout life, and have access to information. According to the United Nations this is possible if there is an approach to language education that promotes the use of at least three languages: one of which should be a mother tongue or first language.
Language education can also be seen as a means to ensure that, down the road, learners participate as global citizens, acting for change at both the local and global levels.
There is a call for a higher importance placed on multilingual education in Northern Ireland, as research has shown it as an effective means to ensure inclusion in and through education and build global citizens. If undertaken appropriately, it can equip learners with the language skills they need to contribute proactively to society, creating a more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable world. Language education also offers a framework for transmitting values and knowledge that strengthen a sense of belonging to both local and global communities, which are the starting point of civic engagement.
The International Mother Language Day not only about the celebration of Language education, it also aims to highlight the importance of the preservation and documentation of languages around the world. This is ever more important, as it is expected that, of the 7000 languages spoken today, 50% will disappear before the next century.
It is important to realise that if we lose a language, we also lose centuries of knowledge and traditions that have helped shape who we are. A language is much more than words. We translate values and meaning through language which is not always possible through translation.
With all of this in mind many countries have set up special programmes to celebrate and promote linguistic and cultural diversity, bringing minority mother languages to the forefront in society, making them visible to all, allowing every Language the recognition it deserves .
Northern Ireland is also on a mission to promote mother tongues, with the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín recently publishing separate strategies to enhance and protect the development of both Irish and Ulster-Scots languages.
The Minister said: “Irish and Ulster-Scots are key aspects of our culture, heritage and identity.
She also expressed that these languages are not the preserve of any particular group or of any section of the community; rather they are part of our shared cultural heritage and belong to everyone; and that there is a necessity to protect the interests of their speakers and to put in place a solid foundation which affords everyone an equal opportunity to learn these languages.