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International Mother Language Day

Written by Ingrid Wadman – Volunteer at ACAA

A week ago from today, on the 21st February, International Mother Language Day was celebrated to promote the diversity of languages and cultures. It has been a tradition since February 2000 and has contributed to the preservation of languages that are disappearing at a worrying pace due to globalisation processes. According to UNESCO, one language disappears on average every two weeks. Hence, 43% of the world’s 6000 languages are threatened with extinction (UN, 2018). Yet, only a few hundred languages are taught in education and even fewer are present in the digital world (UN, 2018).

Language shapes our identities, the way we communicate and the sense of belonging we have to a community. Providing access to education in first languages is important for learning the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy. Learning the mother tongue also leads to the preservation of traditional knowledge and values. When languages disappear, so does cultural diversity, traditions and unique ways of expression, which are important resources for sustainable development to shape a better world. It is, therefore, crucial to preserve languages and also to increase the awareness and tolerance of multilingual societies.

I am myself multilingual as I was brought up in Sweden but have lived in the UK for the last few years. I find it hugely important to express myself in Swedish so I’m not limited in ways of expression. Living in an English-speaking country, I can sometimes feel at a disadvantage. On the other hand, I have the joy of speaking two languages fluently and I hardly notice when I switch from one language to the other, which is thrilling and enhances my creativity. I also appreciate the aspect of cultural understanding when I notice the subtle differences in expression which rests on cultural values, for instance, the way we greet or thank people in different languages.

At the ACAA, education in languages is a key focus and we organise free English lessons as well as native-tongue tuition in Farsi and Pashto to preserve the Afghan heritage.

The ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes are available for anyone aged 16 and up. Classes take place at the Albany Centre in Deptford on Saturdays from 12-2:30pm, at Lampton school in Hounslow on Saturdays 12:30-3:30pm and at Project B in Croydon Town Centre from 11am-1pm on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 12-2pm on Saturdays.

Mother-tongue tuition is available at the Saturday School 12:30-3:30pm at Lampton School and at the after-school Homework Club on Tuesdays 5-7pm at our Hounslow office.

Our hope is that cultural diversity and languages will continue to grow and thrive to be passed along to future generations. In light of International Mother Language Day, perhaps we can also reflect on the diversity within languages that reflects a history of interactions.

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