International Mother Language Day 2018

photo by UNESCO Bangladesh
“Many forms of intangible cultural heritage are preserved in language—if you preserve the language, you can preserve that heritage,” stated Dr. Kriengkrai Watanasawad from Thammasat University, at the IMLD celebration hosted by UNESCO Bangkok and Bangladesh Embassy.

(March 2018) SIL joined with communities worldwide to recognize and celebrate local languages as part of the annual observance of UNESCO-designated International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on 21 February. This year commemorated the nineteenth International Mother Language Day. Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, stated: "This is an opportunity to recall our Organization's commitment to defending and promoting languages."

SIL's Ethnologue: Languages of the World launched its 21st edition on IMLD as its contribution to the celebration of the world's 7,097 known living languages. Because knowledge about lesser-known languages has been a focus of the Ethnologue since its inception in 1951, SIL provides the most up-to-date information about the languages of the world each year on this day.

Each year SIL staff celebrate this annual focus on mother languages by participating in several IMLD-related events around the world. 

  • Mali: The celebration of International Mother Language Day in Mali took place in Baguinéda village (near Bamako) on 22 February. School children, women, youth, hunters and dancers participated in the festive event. Among the guests was the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Assetou Founè Samaké Migan, and Madam Director of AMALAN Mrs. Coulibaly Mariam Koné.  SIL had an exhibition table with books and pictures with slogans and proverbs in several languages in which SIL Mali works. In the afternoon there was a forum to advocate for multilingual education and for minority languages.  


SIL Mali exhibited materials in minority languages at the celebration.

  • Solomon Islands: On Wednesday 21 February, local SIL staff and Arosi-speaking teachers celebrated IMLD in Kirakira, Makira Province, Solomon Islands. The teachers who serve in schools participating in the multilingual education pilot program sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development are attending a teacher training workshop to help them learn how to use Arosi language materials in the classroom. The training includes instruction in how to teach letter names and sounds, how to use big books and reading primers and how to teach creative writing.

At the end of the day, the teachers enjoyed eating ice cream in celebration of International Mother Language Day.

  • Uganda: In celebration of IMLD, a local radio station in Western Uganda challenged Lugungu-speaking students with a spelling contest. The goal was to improve the students' knowledge of their language and to promote Lugungu literature which includes their dictionary, storybooks and the Bible. District officials were in attendance and spoke to students and community members. Kinene Simon, Chairman of Local Counsel 5, Buliisa district, recognized SIL for its work in the area. "This work has put the language on the trajectory of success."

Students watch and wait their turn at a spelling contest in Buliisa District 5, Western Uganda.

  • UNESCO Paris: Sixty people joined UNESCO's annual IMLD celebration in its Paris headquarters. Dr. Barbara Trudell, Director of Research and Advocacy, SIL Africa, and other SIL staff attended. The theme was Linguistic Diversity and Multilingualism Count for Sustainable Development. 2018 is also the 70th anniversary year of the universal declaration of human rights, and the link was made between language, human rights and shared human heritage. The event featured opening remarks by Ms. Soo-Hyang Choi, Director of UNESCO's Division of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development. Further remarks were given by the Ambassador of Bangladesh to France, the chair of the UNESCO Working Group on Multilingualism, and a representative of the Organizational Internationale de la Francophonie. The event was rounded out with a panel discussion on "our language, our assets," with panelists from universities around the world.

Mr. Bilal Fouad Barakat, of the Global Education Monitoring Report, gave a presentation on language of instruction and literacy in multilingual contexts. "The regions of the world with the biggest literacy gaps are those with highest linguistic diversity."

  • UNESCO Bangkok and Embassy of Bangladesh hosted an IMLD celebration which was attended by several SIL staff. The event's theme was how language diversity can advance peaceful, sustainable development. Dr. Kirk Person from SIL International cited the success of the Mahidol/UNICEF Patani Malay-Thai Multilingual Education Program, saying that it provided clear proof of the dramatic change for the better that the MTB-MLE approach can have in learners' lives. "We need to make the often invisible issue of language barriers in education visible and address them through mother tongue-based multilingual education."  H.E. Saida Muna Tasneem, the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Thailand, shared the background of the Day. The date of International Mother Language Day, 21 February, was initially suggested to the UNESCO General Conference by a delegation from Bangladesh that sought to commemorate the memories of the students who died struggling to protect their native Bangla language in 1952.


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