International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62). The date, 21 February, was selected to coincide with the Language Movement Day in Bangladesh, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution. The UN General Assembly welcomed the proclamation of the day in its resolution of 2002.
This has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The theme for 2018 is Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development. International Mother Language Day also supports target 6 of Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.”
Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women. It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local. It also reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner's life through the mother tongue. To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus play an important role in promoting sustainable futures.
Due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so do the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future. More than 50 per cent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 per cent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world's population. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given pride of place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.