It’s most probably the language in which you’d swear when you get a very sudden fright. Chances are that you also dream in this language. If you’re lucky, you’ll know nursery rhymes in it, and maybe even a few archaic idioms and made-up words…
One’s mother tongue is an almost instinctive language – often it’s knowledge that one just seems to have as an adult, deeply embedded to emerge at the strangest of times. It is fitting to have an international day to mark this very personal and precious resource that helps us to make sense of the world. One’s mother tongue, or first language, also serves as a springboard for learning more languages – at times so successfully that some people eventually find it hard to distinguish between their first and second language.
International Mother Language Day is celebrated on 21 February each year. Honouring this day gives us at the Language Centre great joy and confirms our purpose at a deep level. Language starts with the first language you learn, and the wonder of that first language lives on and through all the other languages you open yourself up for. When you learn to speak and write in a language other than your mother tongue, it stimulates and expands intercultural experiences and dialogue between people. We strongly believe that knowledge of and a passion for different languages can contribute to stronger relationships between people, cultures and organisations. When we promote and nurture language proficiency at the Language Centre, we encourage our students and clients to go all out to learn other languages with us – be it isiXhosa, Afrikaans or English.
International Mother Language Day invites each and every one of us to stop for a moment and reflect; to think back how it all started for each one of us, linguistically. What is your relationship with the language that first enabled you to name your world? This day gives us an opportunity to honour and appreciate that personal and individual starting point. Marking this day helps to preserve our respective heritages, and encourages us to become part of a linguistically diverse, multilingual and culturally rich society. It all starts with that very important first one, though: the mother of languages.
– by Susan Lotz, Kim Wallmach and Zandile Kondowe