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  • Writer's pictureMaría Palomares Tarí


The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) International Mother Language Day is celebrated on 21 February worldwide (every year since 2000) to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism and to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions based on understanding, tolerance, and dialogue.

The phrase “mother language,” otherwise known as ''mother tongue'' refers to what we are taught at home from birth— the language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood, our first or native language. The mother language is the core of a person's culture, identity and heritage and an essential component of quality education. Thus, it needs to be preserved especially when some languages across the world are severely endangered and are at risk of being lost in our lifetime.

Want to discover more about this celebration? Keep reading and check out its history and some of the most intriguing facts about the International Mother Language Day!

February 21st is also Bengali Language Day – and that’s not a coincidence

International Mother Language Day is celebrated on February 21st to commemorate the tragic deaths of four student activists from Bangladesh. The students were killed in 1952 as they demonstrated in favor of making Bengali a national language in what is now Bangladesh. As a result, Bangladesh has been celebrating "Bengali Language Movement Day" on February 21st since 1955.

February 21st was declared to be the International Mother Language Day by UNESCO in 1999 and has been observed throughout the world since 2000 in tribute to the Language Movement done by the Bangladeshis.

Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand

The policy paper, ‘If you don’t understand, how can you learn?’ released for International Mother Language Day, argues that being taught in a language other than their own can negatively impact children’s learning, especially for those living in poverty. However, there has been some progress in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.

“With every language that dies we lose an enormous cultural heritage; the understanding of how humans relate to the world around us; scientific, medical and botanical knowledge; and most importantly, we lose the expression of communities' humor, love, and life. In short, we lose the testimony of centuries of life.”

-Endangered Languages Project site-

Every two weeks, a language disappears

Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. According to UNESCO, only a few hundred of these are used for education, and less than one hundred are used in the digital world.

Why does it matter? In accordance with the UN, “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”.


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