On February 21st, the United Nations (UN) celebrates International Mother Language Day. International Mother Language Day promotes the awareness of language and cultural diversity across the world. It also commemorates the killing of the group of four university students by the Pakistani Police in Bangladesh on February 21, 1952, because they advocated and supported a campaign to officially use their mother language, Bengali, in Bangladesh. It was first announced by UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 17, 1999, celebrated for the first time in 2000 and every year since then.
International Mother Language Day recognizes that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion, leaving no one behind. UNESCO believes education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years, as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning. They also encourage people to maintain their knowledge of their mother language while learning and using more than one language. Governments and non-governmental organizations may use the day to announce policies to encourage language learning and support.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”
“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going”
-Rita Mae Brown
This year’s observance is a call to policymakers, educators and teachers, parents and families to scale up their commitment to multilingual education and inclusion in education to advance education recovery in the context of COVID-19. This effort also contributes to the United Nations’ International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), for which UNESCO is the lead agency, and which places multilingualism at the heart of indigenous peoples’ development.
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