What is International Mother Language Day?

International Mother Language Day is an annual celebration held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to advocate for multilingualism.

Why is International Mother Language Day celebrated?

Languages are of strategic importance for people and our planet. They strengthen co-operation and quality education for all, as well as helping to build inclusive societies and aiding sustainable development.

However, as a result of globalisation, they are increasingly under threat of disappearing. Every two weeks, a language disappears, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. When a language fades, so too does a part of the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity.

Celebrating International Mother Language Day raises awareness about the importance of preserving indigenous and local languages. The worldwide celebration encourages us all to be proud of our mother languages, and to be unashamed of using them in Australia’s diverse and multicultural society.

Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky summarises the importance of language in her TED Talk, which explores how languages shape the way we think.

How to celebrate International Mother Language Day

So, what can you do to celebrate International Mother Language Day? There are a number of little things you can do to honour this day

  1. Find out which Indigenous land you live on using Native Land and what languages are spoken there. First Languages Australia can also be an incredibly handy resource if you’re eager to learn more about the country’s Indigenous languages.
  2. Enjoy a movie in a language other than your own. Streaming services in Australia offer a huge range of films from around the world, all in different languages and with subtitles. SBS On Demand has a particularly good world movie selection and the service is completely free.
  3. If you are learning a language, change your movie or TV viewing from English to your new language. See how you go understanding it – you might surprise yourself!
  4. Subscribe to a radio channel in another language and listen to it regularly. Radio is a powerful medium for celebrating diversity. Here’s a list of the international community radio stations available in Australia.
  5. Be social! Spread the message by sharing a greeting or a joke in your mother language. Don’t forget to use the hashtags #motherlanguageday or #language on social media on 21 February!

Remember, in the words of Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”