International Mother Language Day has got us thinking about the meaning and importance of our mother tongue.
The language we hear from birth, our mother language, helps us understand the world around us and gain vital literacy and learning skills. Our first langauge also influences how we learn other languages as we grow up, even if we no longer actively use our native tongue.
The t’works infographic shows the most spoken languages in the world, native and non-native. But with over 7000 languages across the globe, the majority are not represented here. English is the most widely spoken language both geographically and in numbers, but this is because it is often learnt as a second language. Mandarin has the highest number of native speakers and is geographically concentrated in Asia.
Sometimes learning a secondary language quickly takes precedence over our mother tongue, as we start school and adapt to the country where we live. This can create a tension between wanting to be anchored in our family heritage and at the same time feeling a pull towards assimilation with the culture around us. In some cases, there is a feeling of guilt when children fail to learn the language of their parents and can’t communicate with older members of their family in their native language. This year UNESCO is focusing on the importance of mother language in education and how technology can help the 40% of the population who can’t access learning in a language they understand. It is hoped innovative technology tools can help preserve linguistic diversity and therefore cultural and traditional knowledge.
Ultimately our native language is one of the foundations of our identity and has a lasting and significant role in who we become. It is undoubtedly a cornerstone of our many and diverse societies and is to be treated with care.
Our mother language matters.
Thanks to ethnologue.com