International Mother Language Day 2004“Mother tongue languages should be favoured in education systems from the earliest age,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura in his message for International Mother Language Day 2004*. “It is widely acknowledged nowadays,” he added, “that teaching in both the mother tongue and the official national language helps children to obtain better results and stimulates their cognitive development and capacity to learn.”
However, a survey being undertaken by UNESCO** indicates that although the use of mother languages as a medium of instruction is gaining ground, few countries have incorporated the idea into their education systems.
This study shows that India is one of the world leaders in the development of multilingual education systems, with about 80 languages being used to teach children at different levels of schooling. However, across Africa, where an estimated 2,011 languages are spoken, the languages of the former colonial powers - English, French, Spanish and Portuguese - still dominate education systems. A similar situation prevails in Latin America, while in Europe, instruction is limited mainly to the languages of the European Union.
According to the “Atlas of the World Languages in Danger of Disappearing” (UNESCO, 2001), there are about 6,000 languages spoken in the world today. Ninety five percent of these languages are spoken by only four percent of the population, and an average of two languages die out each month.
The 30th session of UNESCO’s General Conference held in 1999 proclaimed February 21 International Mother Language Day in recognition of the importance of the world’s linguistic diversity and to promote the practice of mother tongue languages.
* For the complete text of the Director-General’s message and more information on International Mother Language Day go to: http://www.unesco.org/education/IMLD2004/
**For details on this research and more on UNESCO’s work in the area of multilingualism, go to: http://www.unesco.org/education/languages