Woman sitting down on the floor pointing at a poster with letters is surrounded by young children.
Toddlers in Bangladesh are introduced to the alphabet.
Photo:© UNICEF/BANA2014-00573/Mawa

Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society

International Mother Language Day recognizes that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion, and the Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on leaving no one behind. UNESCO believes education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning.

This year’s observance is a call on policymakers, educators and teachers, parents and families to scale up their commitment to multilingual education, and inclusion in education to advance education recovery in the context of COVID-19. This effort also contributes to the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), for which UNESCO is the lead agency, and which places multilingualism at the heart of indigenous peoples’ development.

Four girls in traditional outfits sit and read outdoors.

Virtual Event

Friday, 19 February 2021
10:00-12:20 GMT+1 (Paris time)

The webinar will address two themes:

  • Rethinking inclusive policy and practice in teaching and learning in multilingual contexts
  • Enhancing inclusion through multilingualism, including sign language, in early childhood education and care (ECCE), the foundation for learning

Safeguarding Linguistic Diversity

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.

Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.

Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.

International Mother Language Day is observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Background

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. The UN General Assembly welcomed the proclamation of the day in its resolution of 2002.

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 and named the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to serve as the lead agency for the Year.

Today there is growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, but also in strengthening co-operation and attaining quality education for all, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.

Portrait of an indigenous girl from the Andes.

Government ministers, indigenous leaders, and other stakeholders and experts adopted recommendations for a global plan of action for the Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032). Los Pinos Declaration emphasizes indigenous peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, to an education in their mother tongue and to participation in public life using their languages, to ensure the survival of indigenous languages.

illustration of people with clock, calendar, to-do list and decorations

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.