“Mother languages in a multilingual approach are essential components of quality education, which is itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their societies” –Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General

February 21st marks the celebration of International Mother Language Day. Nations around the world are commemorating linguistic diversity and the interconnectedness that language has in building a global community.

International Mother Language Day was first developed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999. Through the creation of International Mother Language Day, the UN began to tackle the complexities that surround linguistic preservation. Through their efforts, the UN has increased awareness of the benefits that a multilingual education has on global integration. International Mother Language Day has fostered educational opportunities throughout the world, and has allowed individuals from all walks of life to come together in acceptance of cultural diversity.

International Mother Language Day is not only an important celebration, but also a call to action, as mother languages around the world face endangering realities. Studies show that over 50% of the 7,000 languages spoken worldwide are in danger of dying out. More alarmingly, 96% of the 7,000 languages spoken are only done so by 4% of the population. These statistics prove the decrease in spoken local dialects as a few leading languages grow in dominance. International Mother Language Day acts as an important reminder of the preservation efforts needed to improve multilingual learning opportunities.

This year, UNESCO is working to increase awareness of linguistic diversity through their theme, “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.” UNESCO is advancing their mission today by hosting an all-day workshop at their headquarters in Paris, France. It is here that they are educating citizens and leaders from around the world on the importance of mother languages in increasing intellectual attainment. UNESCO hopes that through this workshop the UN’s mission to fully attain their Millennium Development Goals (MDG), particularly Sustainable Development Goal 4 regarding education will be achieved. 

Furthermore, individuals from around the world are coming together today in support of the UN’s mission to advance sustainable and multilingual education. In Zambia, the Department of Arts and Culture has prepared parades and celebrations through the help and participation of local volunteers. Specifically, students and faculty members from schools across the nation are showcasing traditional ceremonial performances to educate individuals of the many different heritages and local languages. In Saskatchewan, Canada, performers are gearing up for a week-long celebration that includes “very colorful and diverse” multicultural dances and acts that will be performed in various languages. Moreover, Bangladeshi students from the University of Dhaka, Kolkata Saint Xavier’s College, and Banga Literature Association are joining forces to lead a ‘Dui Bangla’, which will be a nine-day program that pays tribute to prominent figures in the language preservation movement.

As individuals gather together around the world, nations grow in support of one another for International Mother Language Day. Today marks an opportunity for people of different cultures to work together and advance linguistic education. It is through this day that communities are fostered and heritage empowered.