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International Mother Language Day
21 February

"Mother languages in a multilingual approach are essential components of quality education, which is itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their societies."

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General


first graders in class

First day of school for first-graders in Kosovo. Photo: Genti Shkullaku/World Bank

2016 Theme: Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes

In line with Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education of the 2030 Agenda, this year's theme emphasizes the importance of appropriate languages of instruction, usually mother tongues, in the early years of schooling. It facilitates access to education – while promoting fairness – for population groups that speak minority and indigenous languages, in particular girls and women; it raises the quality of education and learning achievement by laying emphasis on understanding and creativity, rather than on rote and memorisation.

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62).

On 16 May 2007 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.



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