International Mother Language Day [UNESCO] – 21st February 2012

International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 .

On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/61/266 called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.

International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

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.

From the UN website

How to participate | Possible action fields:

Projects on languages and multilingualism take many forms – building capacity, research and analysis, raising awareness, supporting projects, developing networks, disseminating information – and have diverse outreach (local, regional or global). These activities are often interdisciplinary, but they can also address particular aspects of language issues, including:

  • Educational initiatives promoting inclusion and quality learning by supporting bi-and multi-lingual education, especially the use of the mother-tongue, at all levels and in formal and non-formal settings; including special attention to teacher training, literacy provision and health education.
  • Projects in the field of science aimed at enhancing communication and collaboration between scientific researchers and institutions across linguistic divides; translating and disseminating scientific materials to communities in order to overcome language barriers; recognizing the central role of vernacular languages in indigenous ways of knowing.
  • Social and human sciences projects focusing on languages and human and cultural rights, migrations and urbanization and other social issues (e.g. exclusion and poverty).
  • Culture-centered projects on cultural diversity, dialogue and exchange, protecting cultural heritage, safeguarding endangered languages (i.e. through translations and publications for instance).
  • Communication and information initiatives that concentrate on building knowledge societies in which everyone can participate and benefit; promoting universal access to information and wider access to ICTs by ensuring the use of a greater number of languages; promoting cultural and linguistic diversity in the media and international information networks.


Below are some notes from the INEE website:

As the  theme this year is “Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education,” it highlighs the importance of mother tongue as part of the right to education. Below is  a message from the Mother-Tongue Based and Multilingual Education Network:


Children from 0 to 5 years of age need a strong foundation in their home language and culture to become good students and productive adults. Yet in conflict environments, preschool and school age children are often forced to learn in an unknown language in culturally different schools. Research results reveal that when children are unable to understand the language of instruction, they do not learn well. They usually withdraw and are unable to cope with home and school environments.


There are several advantages to teaching children in their mother tongue. Learning in a familiar language helps them to deal with their new reality, learn better and more rapidly, and benefit from cultural continuity with their former home. Once they are able to read and write in their first language and have learned developmentally appropriate concepts, they will be ready to learn in another language.


Many nations now accept that early childhood services and the early primary school grades should be provided in the mother tongue. They know that research has shown that teaching in the home language is more effective than teaching in a foreign language in achieving positive learning outcomes and developing children’s strong cultural identity and sense of self worth. It is also more cost effective and cost efficient, and prepares children for success in multilingual education (MLE). In addition, mother tongue instruction and services are internationally acknowledged in Articles 2, 17, 20 and 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Some humanitarian assistance workers believe that it is hard to develop mother tongue-based (MTB) materials and activities because they lack the requisite skills or it is cost prohibitive. Yet effective methods for developing MTB learning materials exist. Should aid workers lack those skills, specialists are available to help them, and mother tongue speakers can assist teachers and help to bridge language barriers. Moreover, providing materials in a language that children understand will help them learn, thereby increasing success rates and cost-effectiveness.


The MTB-MLE Network, located in Washington, DC but with a global membership, has developed a website to provide guidance and resources that can help educators and others, including those working in emergency and crises situations, to develop MTB-MLE programs, materials and services ( A short list of related resources pulled from the MTB-MLE “e-library” and INEE Toolkit can be found at the end of this message.


While providing children with a linguistically and culturally appropriate education in a conflict or post-conflict situation is vital, efforts also should be made to collaborate with ministries of education to identify how MTB-MLE services can be integrated sustainably into national educational and health policies and service systems. Ultimately, ensuring that children and their families have access to education, health and other vital services in their home languages is key to ensuring a successful future.


Some background documents:

Legal Instruments


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