In 1999 UNESCO declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day. It is a special day for the promotion of multilingualism, and cultural and linguistic diversity. Around the world, people and organizations celebrate International Mother Language Day with social media posts, workshops, and various events to boost the awareness on the importance of the day.

Here’s an interesting fact. It is called Mother Language because in familial relationships, young children are under the care of grandmothers and mothers, and they learn their first languages from their primary caregivers, the adult women in their families. Linguists say that people learn their first language from their mothers.

Why Do We Celebrate International Mother Language Day?

The International Mother Language Day is a two-prong celebration. Worldwide celebrations honor language variety and diversity. It also commemorates the students killed during a protest in Bangladesh that happened on February 21, 1952. They were part of the group that was campaigning for the official use of Bengali as their mother language.

Bangladesh used to be East Pakistan while today’s Pakistan used to be West Pakistan. When the Dominion of Pakistan was created in 1947 through the partition of India, Bangladesh became part of Pakistan. The new nation included many linguistic and ethnic groups, most of which spoke Bengali. The government of the Dominion of Pakistan ordered that Urdu would be the official language.

Since the majority of the population spoke Bengali, they wanted their language to be recognized as an official language as well. The government outlawed rallies and public meetings. But the Bengali speakers organized the Bengali Language Movement, joined by the students of the University of Dhaka. At the height of the protests on February 21, 1952, police opened fire on the demonstrators, which led to the death of the four students. But it took another four years before the government declared Bengali an official language.

Why is Our Mother Tongue Important?

We can claim that the International Mother Language is a salute to freedom of speech – but in this case, it is the freedom to speak the language that you know and understand or your mother tongue.

The importance of the mother tongue cannot be denied and here are some of the reasons why this is so.

1.  It helps in the intellectual development of children

It is believed that children who are fluent in their mother tongue boost their intellectual and cognitive development faster. Many researches indicate that a student who is educated in their mother tongue exhibits higher academic success than students who are taught in a different language.

2.  The communication with own culture is better

Keeping your culture alive is easier with languages. The source language carries the exact essence of the language, even if the translation of the message is of high quality. You can attain a thorough knowledge of a culture by knowing the language. You can stay connected to your roots and your culture by using your mother tongue.

3.  Higher success in learning second languages

It is known that children who are taught to speak their mother tongue find it much easier to learn another language, as their language literacy skills are stronger. .

4.  Better employment opportunities

With business going global, more employment opportunities are open to the local workforce who is fluent in their mother tongue. More options become available to monetize your skills in your mother tongue, either as an employee or an entrepreneur.

5.  Boost your confidence

So many children of immigrants either forgot their mother tongue, or were not taught the language their family originally spoke. It is not totally their fault though because the parents usually want their children to fit in the new environment by encouraging them to speak the language of their new country. But today, speaking their mother tongue is a source of pride. It creates awareness of their culture and heritage. It likewise boosts their confidence.

What is a Mother Tongue?

Mother tongue is defined as the first language a child learns from their mother, typically. As mentioned before, young children’s caregivers are their mothers or grandmothers, from whom they learn their first language. You can likewise call it a native language. Speaking a mother tongue defines an individual’s personality. It can help shape your thoughts and emotions. It enhances your other inherent skills, such as literacy skills, skills for second language learning, as well as critical thinking.

You can also call the mother tongue as native language, first language, or L1. It is described by several definitions:

  • According to the origin or the language that a person learned from the beginning (or infancy)
  • According to the internal identification or the language that the speaker is most familiar with, or one that a person identifies with
  • According to external identification, or the language other people associates with the speaker
  • According to a person’s competence in the language
  • According to function or the language a speaker uses most of the time

Mother tongue may also have other definitions, according to the locale. In Singapore for example, the mother tongue is the language spoken by a particular ethnic group. For Singaporeans, the first language is English. It is their lingua franca, their working language and the language used as their medium of instruction.

Examples of mother tongues

The world speaks 7,111 languages and around 88 percent of the world’s population speaks them either as their first or second language. Of these, only 23 languages are spoken by about half of the population of the world. You can consider these as mother tongues, and the list includes the following:

  • English
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Hindi
  • Standard Arabic
  • Russian
  • Bengali
  • Indonesian
  • Portuguese
  • Standard German
  • Urdu
  • Japanese
  • Wu Chinese
  • Marathi
  • Swahili
  • Western Punjabi
  • Turkish
  • Tamil
  • Telugu

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