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Celebrating world languages

It might be overshadowed by Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations this year, but today is International Mother Language Day. Founded by UNESCO, it’s a day to celebrate the roughly 7000 different world languages, and promote the benefits of multilingualism.

Here at Lingo24, our slogan is “love your language” whether that’s Romanian, Tagalog or English! We’re passionate about languages, and believe they’re more than just a way of communicating.

They reflect the culture, history and identity of a society, and are a vehicle for its literature, poetry, songs and stories. Each language contains a rich store of words, expressions, and sayings, built up over hundreds or thousands of years.

International Mother Language Day was originally founded to mark a horrific example of language repression. In 1952, students in Dhaka (then part of East Pakistan, but now Bangladesh) were shot and killed by police while demonstrating for recognition of their mother tongue, Bangla. This followed a decision to make Urdu the only official language of Pakistan.

Thankfully, most countries now realise the benefits of protecting indigenous languages. But increasing globalisation means that it’s now estimated that half of world languages could die out within a few generations. UNESCO hopes to reverse this trend by promoting linguistic diversity and multilingual education.

It might seem like a losing battle. But there are a few bright spots on the horizon. Many people think technology is leading to increased monolingualism. But digital advances are providing new ways to record and preserve endangered world languages.

One example is a National Geographic project to create “talking dictionaries”. Linguists are travelling to the remotest parts of the world to record “vanishing languages”. They’ve already recorded thousands of examples of native speakers pronouncing words and sentences, recording some for the first time.

UNESCO programs to promote multilingual education are already seeing results. In Central and South America, many projects focus on making  resources, from textbooks to video dramas, available in native languages. They’re also giving local communities the tools to record their unique oral and cultural traditions.

And more global businesses are realising the benefits of speaking to customers in their own language. There’s plenty of evidence that people are reluctant to buy goods or services in a language they’re not familiar with. As more of the world gets online, the internet is becoming a much more multilingual place. Translation is a way of reaching new markets, and standing out from the crowd.

Hazel Mollison

Hazel Mollison edits and writes for the Lingo24 blog. After studying Italian and German at Cambridge University, she worked as a journalist for five years with regional and national newspapers. She enjoys writing about languages, translation, online marketing, and helping small businesses explore new opportunities.

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