Linguistic Diversity

©UNESCO
Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger

Linguistic diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development. Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages  disappear. One language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.

Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.

Languages and Education

UNESCO promotes mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual approaches in education - an important factor for inclusion and qualilty in education. Research shows this has a positive impact on learning and learning outcomes. The Organization provides normative frameworks for language policy and education and shares good practices in bilingual and multilingual education and mother tongue instruction.

Languages and Communication

Increasingly, information and knowledge are key determinants of wealth creation, social transformation and human development. Language is a primary vector for communicating information and knowledge, thus the opportunity to use one’s language on the Internet will determine the extent to which one can participate in emerging knowledge societies.

Languages and Culture

Constituting an essential part of an ethnic community, mother language is a carrier of values and knowledge, very often used in the practice and transmission of intangible cultural heritage. The spoken word in mother language is important in the enactment and transmission of virtually all intangible heritage, especially in oral traditions and expressions, songs and most rituals. Using their mother tongue, bearers of specific traditions often use highly specialized sets of terms and expressions, which reveal the intrinsic depth oneness between mother tongue and the intangible cultural heritage.

International Mother Language Day

On International Mother Language Day 2018, celebrated every year on 21 February, UNESCO reiterates its commitment to linguistic diversity and invites its Member States to celebrate the day in as many languages as possible as a reminder that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development.

UNESCO has been celebrating International Mother Language Day for nearly 20 years with the aim of preserving linguistic diversity and promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education.

In 2018, UNESCO commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its bold statement that ‘no discrimination can be made on the basis of language’, and celebrates its translation into more than 500 languages.

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