International Mother Language Day (IMLD) has been celebrated annually since February, 2000, “to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.” With the theme “Linguistic Diversity and Multilingualism Count for Sustainable Development,” this year’s global celebration addresses Target 6 of Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to: “Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.” Leading this global celebration is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The observance was proclaimed by UNESCO during its General Conference in November, 1999. Seven years later, in January, 2006, the UN agency set up the Task Force on Languages and Multilingualism, chaired by a director-general. The task force served as a strategic monitoring body and an operational monitoring structure (the network of focal points for languages) that ensured synergy among all sectors and services concerned with languages.
On May 16, 2007, a UN General Assembly resolution called on member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.” The resolution declared 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism, and named the UNESCO as the lead agency for the year.
The home is a child’s first “classroom” where he/she learns first, to communicate with sounds and gestures, and eventually grows to become comfortably familiar with the language that his/her family and other members of his/her household use to communicate daily. Studies show that children who are taught in their mother tongue, the language they use at home, understand better the lessons in the various school subject areas. Promoting the use of the mother language is also a gesture of respect for other people’s unique culture. Language is a powerful instrument for showcasing the richness of the world’s culture, and for paving the way for cultural tolerance, harmony and peaceful co-existence by bridging cultural and other divides.
As we celebrate IMLD 2018, let us ponder on these valuable thoughts from UNESCO on the importance of languages: “Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education, and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression – valuable resources for ensuring a better future – are also lost.”