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Mother language: UNESCO promotes the use of technology to advance multilingual education

Technology has the potential to address some of the greatest challenges in education today, including mother-language-based multilingual education, which is a key component of inclusion in education, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The mother tongue is the one we learn first, it is the language we use the most, it is the language we identify with or the one for which we are considered a native speaker, explains Andriamiseza Noro, Specialist in the Education Program at UNESCO in an interview with UN Info.

For her, we should say mother tongues because “if I have a father whose mother tongue is different from that of my mother, I have two languages already and also perhaps in the country where I live, the language used is different from the languages I hear at home, so we can say that I have three mother tongues”.

For a child, the mother tongue is one of the first means of translating the meaning of the world and it helps him in his development. Indeed, the child expresses himself with the language that he hears most often, or that is in his family environment or in society. He communicates and acquires the fundamentals of reading and writing in this language. “So it’s part of his development because it’s a language he expresses himself in,” says Andriamiseza Noro. “He learns what is around him, he communicates with those around him and it is a language to acquire basic knowledge. 

Finally, the mother tongue also allows the transmission of values, culture and traditional knowledge.

The use of technology has the potential to promote linguistic diversity

For Andriamiseza Noro, the strength of new technologies is their interactivity, their fluidity, their flexibility.

Multilingualism based on the mother language(s) fulfills a key function in encouraging respect for diversity and a sense of interconnectedness between countries and populations, which are fundamental values at the heart of global citizenship.

Technology allows us to be in a real situation, which we don’t necessarily have with a book or a textbook,” explains the UNESCO expert.

For her, the potential of this technology is its interactivity. “It is to hear the languages as spoken in one region, or another.”

She has observed that young people tend to use technology outside of formal education, outside of the classroom. “And I feel like they learn a lot faster with these technologies. So it’s that potential of technology that allows us to be maybe more multilingual and communicate much faster,” she says.

“And that’s one of the great strengths of technology. Thanks to a lot of software, oral communication is facilitated, something that was not possible 30 years ago, when you were in a language lab with really artificial situations,” recalls Andriamiseza Noro. “February 21 is International Mother Language Day.”

February 21 is International Mother Language Day@UNESCO-DR

Promoting the mother language

On the occasion of the International Mother Language Day, UNESCO calls on its Member States to promote the languages that exist in the countries in several areas of the public sphere, such as education, culture but also in the administrative field.

For Andriamiseza Noro, what is important in preventing the extinction or disappearance of a language is the intergenerational transmission. This must be part of the awareness. 

In addition, the use of languages is essential in education. “So here we are talking about language policies, teaching languages or teaching in languages.

There is also, the willingness of native speakers to promote their native language themselves.

“Because the perception that we often have of our mother tongue is quite biased,” she explains. “We think that when a language is not part of the great languages of this world, we don’t sell ourselves with that language, I mean, we don’t find work. So there is a perception that, I would say, is to be reviewed,” she says.

According to her, means, financial resources and techniques are needed to promote mother languages in culture as well as in education or in other fields such as medicine, administration, or translation.

It is therefore necessary to love the mother language, the mother languages, to promote them by speaking them. If you don’t speak them, promote them in another way. Make sure that they are used in as many areas as possible, in culture, reading, writing,” she concludes.

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