International Mother Language Day
A collection of resources, events and initiatives to help celebrate your mother language

Celebrated every 21 February, International Mother Language Day is a tribute to multilingualism and cultural diversity. At NCW, we make a commitment to promoting linguistic diversity year round.

So much of a culture is captured and contained within a language. Linguistic diversity is a key part of sustaining heritage, traditions and community. Bangladesh came up with the idea for International Mother Language Day to raise awareness for the 6,000 languages spoken globally, and on 21 February Bangladeshis also celebrate the day that the Bangla language was officially accepted. It was first observed by UNESCO on 21 February 2000, and a different theme is chosen each year. This year’s theme is ‘Multilingual education – a necessity to transform education’. With 40% of the worldwide population not having access to an education in a language they speak, this theme is more important than ever.

To honour this legacy, we’ve brought together resources, links to support networks, local and national initiatives and events that celebrate speaking your mother language.


Resources
Visible Communities commissions

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We would definitely recommend having a scroll through our Visible Communities commissions.

Our Visible Communities programme aims to:

  • Diversify access routes to literary translation
  • Strengthen links between the literary translation community and diaspora communities
  • Contribute to the debate around decolonising literary translation
  • Expand the range of literature published in translation.

Visible Communities is generously funded by Arts Council England. The virtual residency programme was supported by the Jan Michalski Foundation. As part of Visible Communities residencies, writers and translators have developed a host of podcast episodes, blog posts and informational guides, many of which touch on cultural and linguistic diversity. Crossing themes such as decolonising translation, and how we can best appreciate and honour our mother languages in translation, the commissions produced are an incredible resource to explore this International Mother Language Day. 

These three commissions are good starting points…

 

Vanilla Sorbet

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Beginning by recalling an interaction with an ice cream vendor who refused to respond to her speaking Kreol rather than standardised French, editor and translator Nadiyah Abdullatif wrote a commission reflecting on her experience translating Mauritian literature with National Centre for Writing during her Visible Communities virtual residency. She considers her formative experiences with Mauritian Creole, or Kreol, and the commonplace negative attitudes to using Kreol, even amongst some Mauritians. Nadiyah also recounts how the NCW residencies have opened up opportunities for her to afford to translate, and the difficulty of being able to make a living as a literary translator.

Here’s an excerpt from this insightful commission:

A particular interest of mine was finding texts containing Mauritian Creole, or Kreol, and I spent a significant amount of time seeking the rights to translate the first novel written and published in Mauritian Creole (which sadly didn’t work out in the end). It was an intimidating prospect for a number of reasons. Like most Mauritians, I have never formally studied the language. I find very few opportunities to read or write in it (beyond the occasional newspaper article or WhatsApp message), and I speak it only in very specific situations despite feeling very connected to the language. While this is partly due to me living outside Mauritius, it is also likely due to Mauritian Creole having a long history of stigmatisation, leading to its exclusion in certain contexts. The language only obtained a place in the Mauritian education system in recent years, and officially standardised writing systems for it only emerged following the establishment of the Akademi Kreol Morisien by the Mauritian Government in 2010.

Read more here.

 

Podcast: We Are Always Translating

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For an episode of The Writing Life podcast, we commissioned a fantastic audio piece called We Are Always Translating, featuring interviews and soundscapes. The piece asks: What is translation and how is it experienced? In the piece, three translators explore their experiences of inhabiting multiple languages in a portrayal of life in translation, of translation as a part of everyday life, of translation as survival, and of people as translated beings.

The piece includes interviews with Kavita Bhanot, Yovanka Paquete Perdigão and Nariman Youssef and was made by Gitanjali Patel and Miia Laine as part of the Visible Communities residency here at the National Centre for Writing. Take a listen to the podcast below.

 

Notes on the Azrar

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© The Trustees of the British Museum

During a Visible Communities virtual residency, Lydia Hounat has been translating the etymologies of different terms used to describe an Azrar necklace held by the British Museum in their digital archive which you can view here. Lydia’s interest is in looking at the limitations of colonial vernacular used in museums and galleries to describe artefacts, often perpetuating erasure and displacing contexts. She has translated the etymological roots of these words, for example the word ‘Berber’, and the limited, violent origins of this term, vs. the more complex and relevant proper name for her community, ‘Imazighen’.

From such a gross misunderstanding of such a piece, emerges a whole sunrise of knowledge.

In her residency diary, Lydia explores how colonial language puts an end to conversations about culture and origin, whereas indigenous tongues provide multiplicity and possibilities and deserve recognition and respect.

You can have a read of all Lydia’s diary entries here. You can also view the necklace in the British Museum digital archives.

 

Home / Heritage / Community Languages – Association for Language Learning

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The Home / Heritage / Community Languages page hosted by the British Council and the Association for Language Learning is a really useful resource for celebrating speaking your mother language, and encouraging the use of multiple languages. It is entirely dedicated to languages used or taught at home, or within community or faith settings.

At this webpage, you can discover a wealth of resources (including guest blogs, tributes, etc.) and events that push mother languages to the forefront. Specific tools for learning about and celebrating International Mother Language Day can be found here, including tools to develop intercultural understanding through play, and a publication that celebrates the power of multilingualism.

 

EAL/EDC Advisory Service – Norwich County Council

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The EAL / EDC Advisory Service (English as an additional language and ethnically diverse communities advice and support) set up by Norwich County Council, provides a variety of support, resources and links for people in schools whose mother language is not English.

From their service to support improved educational outcomes for learners with a non-English native tongue or culture, to specific resources for supporting Ukrainian refugees, the EAL/EDC Advisory Service is an invaluable local center for aiding young people in speaking their mother language, and being able to navigate aspects of a new culture.

 

 

Events
Meet the World: Rooted in Language

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We are so excited to host the online Meet the World: Rooted in Language event today on International Mother Language Day. Our Meet the World series aims to celebrate our ongoing connections with international writers and translators by sharing their writing and ideas with new readers.

At 7pm, Crispin Rodrigues, Mary Jean Chan, Nina Mingya Powles and Will Harris will share their experiences of writing from a multilingual perspective, both through their journey to writing poetry and the themes that permeate their work. Their discussion will highlight the struggle to navigate and thread fragments of language when the page becomes a metonym for a coherent national or personal identity.

We’d like to thank National Arts Council of Singapore for generously supporting this event.

 

Manchester City of Literature programme

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This year will be the 7th International Mother Language Day observed in Manchester, hosted by Manchester City of Literature. There are a wide range of events, both in-person and online, to celebrate the linguistic diversity in Manchester, with around 200 languages spoken there.

The events around Greater Manchester involve libraries, cultural venues, community groups, universities, schools, museums, langauage centres, poets, writers, singers, dancers and translators, through a mix of interactive activity, creativity and reflection.

Comma Press, a publisher and development agency specialising in short fiction, is running a number of workshops, for example a panel discussion at 11am today on what strategies might inform a translator’s practice with regard to both contemporary and historic queer literature and the ethical implications of doing so. Yesterday, Community Arts Northwest, community organising group working with urban communities in Greater Manchester, ran a special multilingual family singing workshop.

Creative Manchester has coordinated with partners and colleagues from the Linguistic Diversity CollectiveManchester MuseumSheffield Hallam University and the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival to present the following events:

The full programme of IMLD 2023 events, downloadable as a PDF, can be found here.

 

 

Initiatives

Here, we’ve put together a list of NCW initiatives that champion multilingualism and cultural diversity, so you can find out more and get involved.

 

Multilingual Creators

Tutor with pupils at Avenue Junior SchoolMultilingual Creators is a creative translation training programme led by the Stephen Spender Trust, the UK’s leading charity for multilingual creativity in schools. The partners are National Centre for Writing, New Writing North and Comma Press. It is co-funded by these organisations, Arts Council England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The partners are working with 12 translators and writers in Newcastle upon Tyne, Greater Manchester and Norwich who have been trained to deliver a blended course of workshops for young people in their region on the theme of ‘Me and My City’.

‘Me and My City’ will see young participants producing and sharing pieces of translation and creative writing that incorporate the languages spoken by them and their communities, as well as those they are learning at school.

Leading on from this, in partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust, we are running four Ukrainian workshops to upper Key Stage 2 students in schools. In these workshops, pupils will work with a translator to read and share a Ukrainian picture book and/or a poem, using images and other prompts to make the Ukrainian text accessible to all. These workshops provide a safe and positive space for Ukrainian pupils to share their language and culture with their peers, and for their classmates to learn about another language and culture.

Multilingual Creators builds on over a decade of education programmes at the Stephen Spender Trust, comprising Translation Nation, Translators in Schools and Creative Translation in the Classroom. To find out more about this work, please visit stephen-spender.org and multilingualcreativity.org.uk.

 

Emerging Translator Mentorships

Founded by Daniel Hahn in 2010, our translation mentoring programme aims to develop successive new cohorts of literary translators into English, particularly for languages whose literature is currently under-represented in English translation. width=

The scheme matches up experienced translators with emerging translators for a six-month period during which they work together on practical translation projects, developing their craft through working on a chosen text or texts. The mentor acts as an adviser to the mentee on aspects of life as a professional translator, such as time management, meeting deadlines, managing finances and understanding contracts, and as an advocate for their mentee with publishers in search of literary translators. The mentor will be a professional literary translator but may not translate from the language supported in the mentorship. Publishers see the mentoring cohort as a reliable source of high-quality emerging translators.

 

Stories from the Quarter

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Stories from the Quarter is a National Lottery heritage exchange project that explores our city’s medieval quarter and the stories of its local residents.

Through a series of wrap-around activities that uses existing and new collections of oral histories as a starting point, Norfolk school children and local residents will be taken on a journey of discovery and intrigue into the vibrant and diverse communities that have lived and worked on King St and Magdalen St and surrounding areas.

I’ve been seeing the cathedral’s spire for 30 years. But every single time I see it, it’s got a different light, a different shade. It’s like a new beginning every time – Giash, the owner of Tamarind Fine Dining in Blofield.

The project has a special focus on Norfolk’s thriving Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communities and will be collecting 10 oral history interviews from community members: including those associated with the mosques, hospitality, transport and NHS professionals.

NCW’s Stories from the Quarter provides a platform for people from Norwich’s growing Bengali community to tell their stories – as well as translate them for a wider audience. The project also helps local Bengalis discover the heritage of their new home and the stories of others who moved to the place they call home of the centuries.

 

Sharing Stories, Connecting Lives course

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From February to May 2023, writers and translators from the UK and Myanmar will learn more about the art and craft of writing a short story, develop their skills and share their work each other. The course is designed for creative writers and literary translators working alongside each other, with the aim of encouraging writers to write their own short stories and give translators an insight into story writing techniques that will be useful for them when they translate short stories.

Each of the writers will produce a piece of writing, which the translators will translate, with support from the tutors. The writing will be published in an online zine, in both languages, to showcase new writing talent and provide insights into the lives of people in Myanmar and the UK.

This project is supported by the British Council Connections Through Culture Programme.

 

Other initiatives to explore

Happy International Mother Language Day! Find out more about this celebration on the British Council page, or at the United Nations website.

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