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Celebrate International Mother Language Day

February 19, 2016

You probably didn't know that February 21st is International Mother Language Day. In the United States, we often take the importance of multilingualism for granted. Somewhat stymied by ignorance and arrogance that English is the "Gold Standard" for communication among nations, most of us fail to appreciate what one's mother tongue means to their society as well as the rest of the world. Languages have long been considered to be one of the most powerful instruments in preserving a society's tangible and intangible heritage.

In Bangladesh, a nation where the right to speak their own language was a major reason for seeking independence from Pakistan, International Mother Language Day takes special meaning. It provides an opportunity to recognize those students, now known as "Language Martyrs", that were massacred in 1952 for protesting the right to speak their mother tongue. On that date, anyone speaking Bangla (one of two Pakistani languages) were massacred in the streets of Dhaka.

According to UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, all efforts to promote the dissemination of mother languages will serve to encourage linguistic diversity through multilingual education but also to develop awareness of cultural traditions throughout the world and inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. The agency's primary goal is to enable everyone to acquire skills, knowledge, and values to become everything they wish and participate fully in the development of their societies. Something that is believed to be essential, especially for minorities, indigenous peoples, and rural populations. 

Today, only a few hundred of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are used in education system and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. So, it is important to every country that we leave no one behind and develop a more just and sustainable future that empowers mother tongues in every society, not just our own. So, take a moment this month to think about the global village that we all live in, and find your way to express appreciation for International Mother Language Day 2016.

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