As a student of Irish, I have often been asked why I chose that particular subject to study in university. My answer is always the same: I’m afraid we’ll lose it if we don’t do something. While Irish, or any other countries’ native language can be difficult not only to master but to learn full stop, I believe it is important to hold on to them in some regard. The purpose of the United Nations’ International Mother Language Day is to celebrate your first language as well as any other minority languages that you may know. It attempts to highlight the advantages of having multiple languages, especially those that may not be so widespread.
This year’s celebrations take place, as always, on the 21st of February, they are centred around the commemoration of those in education who teach through multiple languages. The UN makes the point that, while your first language teaches you how to speak, read and write, other languages you may learn teach you about culture. Languages such as Irish contain words and phrases that only apply to Ireland and this concept is relevant around the world. Danish speakers in Greenland have over thirty different words for snow depending on its type. This, I believe, is wisdom we cannot afford to lose.
I believe these cultural elements contained in language can give us a much better understanding of other countries and races than many of the methods we use today. The learning of the language is not entirely necessary either: the style and sound of a language other than your own can give a great understanding of how people from other countries converse and conduct themselves. In these uncertain and somewhat worrying times we live in, understanding and respect is what we need the most, something I believe languages can give us in spades. While International Mother Language Day may remain just another calendar filler for the time being, I hope to see it become something very important and much discussed in the future.