MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Celebrate our language diversity February 16, 2016

February 21 is International Mother Language Day. UNESCO started this celebration day “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. With roughly 6500 languages spoken around the word, we have a lot to preserve, protect and celebrate.

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The theme of Mother Language Day 2016 is “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes”. Mmm. That is a mouthful. Basically, UNESCO wants to stress the importance of appropriate languages of instruction in early years of schooling. Sadly, it is still not the norm everywhere to be able to go to school in your mother language.

I got schooled in my mother tongue (Afrikaans) when growing up in Apartheid South Africa, and I’ve written how awful things were done in the name of my mother tongue. The history of Mother Language Day is a similar story than the South African narrative where students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor. On February 21, 1952, students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, which is now the capital of Bangladesh. We remember these horrible events, honor the people who died in the process of standing up for their language, and then we try to promote language diversity in our sphere of influence.

I believe mother language instruction for young kids gives kids access to education. My daughter was in a two-way bilingual immersion program where half the class where Spanish speaking, some exclusively so. The Spanish speaking kids learned from the English speaking kids, and vice versa. Everyone is a learner and a teacher.

But since we chose to live in another country, where our mother tongue is not being spoken, I know mother language instruction is not possible for our girls. Instead, we made a choice to foster a love of language learning in our kids. They are proud to be (almost) trilingual, they enjoy showing off their language skills when meeting people who can speak Afrikaans or Spanish, and I know they will continue their multilingual journeys throughout their lives. Let us encourage each other to continue our language journeys, and let us encourage others to be proud of their mother language, whatever one of the 6500 languages it may be.

“A Senegalese poet said ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’ We must learn about other cultures (and I would add, languages) in order to understand, in order to love, and in order to preserve our common world heritage.”
– Yo Yo Ma

 

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Happy International Mother Language Day! February 21, 2013

Reading time at home means books in a mix of three languages

Reading time at home

February 21 is promoted by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day. The day was first proclaimed in 1952 as “Language Movement Day” by Dhaka University students in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) who were protesting suppression of their Bengali language. Police and military forces opened fire, killing many young people in attendance. Let’s not forget that it is still very difficult for lots of people in the world to get an education in their mother tongue.

The theme for 2013 is “The Book”, with the idea to read books, poems, etc. in your local language or a lesser resourced language “somewhere in public”, if possible, to make people aware of the status of many lesser resourced languages or local languages in the world.

If you don’t want to read in public, you can also do it at home. Read a book today in your mother language, listen to a podcast, write a letter, or dance to some music. And remember to share your love of language with your kids.

 

English, the baffling language March 22, 2012

Poster available from BusyTeacher.org

I’m reading The Mother Tongue – English & How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson. I keep bursting out with laughter as he describes the quirks of English. Here is an excerpt from the first page:

Imagine being a foreigner and having to learn that in English one tells a lie but the truth, that a person who says “I could care less” means the same thing as someone who says “I couldn’t care less”, … that when a person says to you, “How do you do?” he will be taken aback if you reply, with impeccable logic, “How do I do what?”

With our youngest daughter in Spanish Immersion School, and thus learning to read and write in Spanish, it is interesting for me to see how she is transferring her knowledge of reading from one language to the other. This has happened to our older daughter too, although the other way around: after learning to read in English, she can now read Spanish and Afrikaans too. I think that in Spanish the words are spelled much more phonetically, just like in Afrikaans. English spelling just doesn’t make sense to me. So when our youngest tries to read words like island, thought, ache, and which, it is no wonder that she is having difficulty!

How did you learn to read another language than your mother tongue? Did you have difficulty with it?

 

Celebrate Your Mother Tongue February 21, 2012

Today, February 21, is International Mother Language Day. This day was proclaimed by UNESCO “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of two national languages of Pakistan (then), were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh (now).

Having grown up during Apartheid in South Africa, I know that June 16, 1976 carries similar significance for South Africans that February 21, 1952 does for the Bangladeshi people. This is the day that school children in Soweto protested the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in secondary schools. The government forced Afrikaans education onto children who didn’t speak it. Police killed about 176 students during the Soweto uprising – the photo of Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo after being shot, became the iconic image of the day. The day is now commemorated as Youth Day, a public holiday, in South Africa. Since my mother tongue is Afrikaans, I’m filled with sadness about what happened in the name of my mother language. South Africa now has 11 national languages, but mother language instruction is sadly still not always available in all locations.

Celebrating International Mother Language Day is a way to promote our unity in diversity. Our world is richer because of multilingualism and multiculturalism.

“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” 
- Kofi Annan


How will you celebrate your mother tongue today? I’m planning to sponsor a word in the Afrikaans dictionary (a fundraising way for survival of the dictionary), read only Afrikaans books for our evening reading ritual, and learn a new word in an unfamiliar language.

Happy International Mother Language Day!

 

 
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