The Mother Tongue


Dimanche 21 Février est la Journée internationale de la langue maternelle! L’édition 2016 de la Journée internationale de la langue maternelle a pour thème « Éducation de qualité, langue(s) d’enseignement et résultats de l’apprentissage »

If you don’t know what that says above, you might not be motivated to keep reading. That’s the challenge faced by about 40 per cent of people in the world who receive education in a language they don’t speak or understand, and its that challenge that International Mother Language Day is working to highlight around the world.

In case you were wondering, the first paragraph says: “Sunday February 21 is International Mother Language Day! The theme of the 2016 International Mother Language Day is ‘Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes.’”

Here in Alberta, we’re fortunate enough to be home to many languages and cultures—an aspect that adds vibrancy and diversity to our province. Our cultural and linguistic variety strengthens our communities and makes Alberta an even more interesting place to live. Not only that, but if more Albertans are able to speak multiple languages, we can make Alberta even more welcoming to visitors, as we’re able to give them a little taste of home while they’re here.

“Mother language,” or “native language” refers to the first language a person learned as a child, and often it is the language that shapes our identities and connections to our culture and heritage, even if we learn different languages later in life. According to the 2011 Canada Census, Albertans listed over 170 languages or dialects as their mother language. The top ten non-English mother languages provided by Albertans in 2011 included German, French, Tagalog (Filipino), Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and Punjabi, among many more.

As the United Nations says in its description of Mother Language Day:

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

Since 2000, International Mother Language Day has been a celebration of peace and multilingualism on February 21. That date has a bloody history tied to it though: in 1952, students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath University and Dhaka Medical College in Bangladesh demonstrated for the recognition of Bangla as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan. The protests reached a climax when students were shot dead by police, leading to widespread civil unrest. But after years of conflict, the government relented and the Bengali language was granted official status in 1956.

This year, International Mother Language Day focuses on how important being able to learn in your mother language is for “empowering women and men and their societies.” As the infographic below shows, not being able to learn in a language you understand can impact the lives of children, especially those living in poverty, and lead to deeper issues such as social and cultural inequality.


So join in on the celebration! Even if you were raised with just one language, there’s always time to learn a second language, and number of ways to do so, both formal, and informal. The benefits of learning a second language are numerous, and it’s fun to boot.

Alles Gute zum Welt Tag der Muttersprache!

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