One language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage, according to UNESCO. Roughly, a third of languages are endangered and sadly, many people all over the world are being denied the opportunity to maintain, develop and enjoy their mother language. The idea to celebrate International Mother Language Day actually came from Bangladesh and was introduced nearly twenty years ago. In Bangladesh, 21 February is the anniversary of the day when Bangladeshis fought for recognition for the Bangla language. Since the year 2000, International Mother Language Day has been observed on 21 February each year, across the world, to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism and also to highlight the importance of this. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay in her message for the day said: “A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life.”
UNESCO uses this day to focus on linguistic diversity and multilingualism as an integral part of sustainable development and invites its member states to celebrate the day in as many languages as possible, as a reminder that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development. In London, a city where over 300 languages are spoken and it is common for a teacher to have at least 20 different languages spoken in their classrooms, International Mother Language Day is an opportunity to emphasise and celebrate the multicultural and mulitlingual diversity in our schools. A couple of teachers we worked with during the London Schools Excellence Fund (LSEF) Programme wrote an interesting case study about their experiences of International Mother Language Day, the activities they did, the observations and reflections made and the impact the day had on their pupils and whole school community. Perhaps you have your own celebrations planned and it would be great to hear from you about how you are recognising the many different languages and cultures in your schools and communities.