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Celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity

Posted on: 21 / 02 / 2021

Marking International Mother Language Day 2021, UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy joined a virtual event organised by the High Commission of Bangladesh, Colombo and Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka.

Below are her remarks at the event, noting the importance of celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity.

I would like to begin my remarks this morning by quoting Nelson Mandela who said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart“. How absolutely true and appropriate given that our theme for this year’s celebration is ‘language for friendship’.

International Mother Language Day celebrates linguistic and cultural diversity alongside multilingualism as a force for social cohesion and sustainable development. As a speaker of multiple languages, myself, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of learning and using multiple languages.

Therefore, I am very grateful for the Bangladesh High Commission in Colombo for taking the leadership in organising this important event to highlight language diversity. Especially here in Sri Lanka, a country blessed with diversity, a highly literate population, and a variety of languages. This diversity is a strength that should be celebrated and harnessed for prosperity and inclusiveness.

You will agree with me that diversity in language encourages dialogue, mutual understanding, innovation and creativity and in turn can help us build more just and inclusive societies – in line with the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Multilingualism and language diversity have a direct impact on achieving a number of the SDGs, and given our audience today, I would draw your attention to the goal of delivering Quality Education – ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Firstly, it is a reality that we live in a multilingual world. People use different languages for different aspects of their lives. Yet, most education systems ignore this multilingual reality. Equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all, is only possible when education responds to and reflects the multilingual nature of society. Children, youth and adults require learning opportunities that are relevant to their lives.

Second, well trained and supported multilingual teachers boost learners’ performances. Teachers who better understand the language and culture of learners are able to design and achieve more relevant and improved learning outcomes.

Third, recent findings suggest that speaking several languages can help improve memory, process information, and develop multitasking skills. In addition, speaking multiple languages could actually delay the effects of certain brain diseases which decrease brain function and memory.

Finally, social cohesion and global citizenship are greatly boosted within a context of respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. Policies and practices that embrace cultural and linguistic diversity are essential for healthy and sustainable social systems. By opening the dialogue between languages, multilingualism can establish a dialogue between people and be a promise of peace and a sustainable future.

Colleagues,

About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world today. We should celebrate this linguistic diversity which is an invaluable part of the heritage of humanity. And work together to promote multilingual education not only in secondary schooling or university but also in early schooling, adult education and literacy programmes. It is only then that we can truly achieve our goal of inclusive and equitable quality education, which as I mentioned earlier, is a cornerstone of a sustainable future.

Let us all join forces to promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a doorway to dialogue, dignity, inclusiveness and a better world for all.