February 21st is officially recognized by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day. I didn’t know about this day until 2011, when a couple of international students from Bangladesh introduced me to the origin of the movement to protect Bengali—(they’re the first two students in the video that we put together that year in the International Centre at the University of Alberta).
“Je te parle dans ta langue, et c’est dans mon langage que je te comprends” Édouard Glissant (1928-2011)
As a language learner, this day always reminds me of a quote from the Caribbean Francophone poet Édouard Glissant, which essentially says “I speak to you in your tongue, but I understand you in my language”. On that note, I really appreciated the 2017 message from UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, recognizing the occasion:
“We are beings of language. Cultures, ideas, feelings and even aspirations for a better world come to us first and foremost in a specific language, with specific words. These languages convey values and visions of the world that enrich humanity. Giving value to these languages opens up the range of possible futures, and strengthens the energy needed to achieve them. On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade. The better we understand how to value languages, the more tools we will have to build a future of dignity for all.”
You can read the whole message in any one of the UN official languages (AR – CH – EN – FR – RU – ES). This is, of course, a good reminder of the tremendous resource that the United Nations website offers to language learners.
I think we all have different motivations for learning languages, but I really find inspiration in the reminder that there are so many different ways to see, hear and understand the world. This is one of the main lessons that I try to impart to my son–he’s probably still too young to fully comprehend the Wade Davis quote that I pushed him to read a few years ago, but I’ll be grateful if he can grow up to keep the core message in his heart.