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Why International Mother Language Day is important

A group of multicultural students having a great time

Most of you will be reading this blog because you want to learn English, so you might be wondering why we would write International Mother Language Day! Although we believe that learning English is crucially important to modern life, we also believe that we should keep and honour our mother languages too! In fact, your mother language has a big impact on your life in more ways than you probably think, so let’s look at some of them and how that fits with your English learning journey!

What is International Mother Language Day?

International Mother Language Day is held each year of February 21. Its purpose is to promote awareness for linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. To have a mother language, you must also have a second (or third etc) language. Without the additional language, the idea of a mother language doesn’t exist! So, really this day is about celebrating knowing more than one language!

The flags of the countries of the united nations

How did International Mother Language Day begin?

In November 1999, UNESCO decided to dedicate a day to mother languages. They picked February 21 as it was the day the Bengali people fought to have their language recognized officially in Pakistan. Since the year 2000, every February 21 has been celebrated as International Mother Language Day.

Why is your mother language important?

As we explained above, to have a mother language means you can speak multiple languages. But why is it important that we remember the first language we speak?

Language is a very important part of our identity. It helps to shape who we are and how we view the world. Language bonds us to people and culture and through this we find our place.

Without language culture dies. Language is the way traditions and values are passed from generation to generation. A person’s mother language is a way to stay connected to their homeland and their roots regardless of where they are and how many other languages they speak.

Because some languages have so few speakers, entire cultures are slowly dying out. In fact, it is estimated that a mother language disappears every two weeks!!

There are roughly 6,000 languages in the world, and over 40% of them are endangered. This means that they are at risk of disappearing completely. One of the most common reasons languages become endangered is that they get replaced by another, more popular language. This is very true of many of the indigenous languages in South America. Many indigenous / tribal languages are in great danger of disappearing due to the practicality and popularity of Spanish in everyday life.

These days many governments are working hard to preserve endangered languages. For example, in Japan less than 10 people are native speakers of the Ainu language. Over the years Japanese has become the main language in Ainu communities. To protect this language the Japanese government has created programs to record, catalogue and teach the Ainu language to anyone who wishes to learn. Because of this, more and more people are learning the Ainu language (and also culture), hopefully saving it from extinction.

Two indigenous women walking in a town

Why learn a second language?

The reality is that these days we are all citizens of the world. Whether we physically travel or experience other people and cultures virtually, we are all global citizens. Learning a language is the best way to make yourself understood and make a difference in our international community.

Learning English at Zoni is a particularly good choice. For example:

  • If you speak Spanish and English, you can communicate with around 80% of the world’s population!
  • If you speak Mandarin and English, you can communicate with around 40% of the world’s population!
  • If you speak German and English, you can communicate with around 15% of the world’s population!

Basically, the more languages you know, the more international your life can be! Also, by learning English, you are learning the international language of business meaning you increase your career opportunities substantially!

Does learning another language help your mother language?

We all agree that looking after your mother language is important, but can learning another language help you with that?

Did you know that learning another language can actually improve your understanding of your mother language!? The process of learning a second language forces you to pay attention to the grammar of your mother tongue. This helps you to understand it better as well as improving the way you use your mother language. In other words, learning a second language can improve your grammar in your first!

Is learning another language bad for my mother language?

The short answer is, no! Not at all!

There is a phenomenon called “language attrition” that I am sure many of you have already experienced. This is where you ‘forget’ the word for something in your mother language.

This usually happens when you are so focussed on your new language that your brain temporarily shuffles, pieces of your mother language to the back of the ‘filing cabinet’.

As babies we learn our mother tongue in a multi-sensory context – which means we learn from our environment and our interactions with it. So, simply put learning through watching and doing. Our mother language becomes instinctive to us. We don’t have to think to use it. We open our mouths, and it comes out.

When you learn a language as an older child or adult we learn in a more systematic way – our brains try to find equivalent words in our mother language so that we may understand. It is this process that sometimes causes us to forget words.

However, you never truly lose your native language. It is always there, and even if it is rusty, or it takes a while, your brain will find the file again!

Students wearing face masks on campus

Without a second language the concept of a mother language doesn’t exist. As language learners we should all celebrate International Mother Language Day. Learning a language is something to be really proud of, regardless of whether you are a beginner or advanced.

If you would like more information about learning English at Zoni, please contact us on info@zoni.edu.