International Mother Language Day

Kia Ora! Talofa! Aloha! Ave! Bonjour! Cześć! Fakaalofa atu!  Guten tag! Halo! Hola! Namaste! Nǐ hǎo! Salâm! Shalom!  你好   สวัสดี  سلام  നമസ്തേ 안녕하십니까  नमस्ते  今日は Γειά!

These are just some of the ways that the many people of world say “hello” in their own language – or their 'mother tongue’.  Many languages are under threat around the world, and when they are gone, then a whole cultural identity with its specific traditions, expressions, local history and feelings are gone with it.

The history of International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day is observed around the world on 21 February to promote multilingualism and awareness of the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity. First announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999, the United Nations General Assembly called on its member states "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world" on 16 May 2009 following the International Year of Languages held in 2008.

Read in your language at the library

All our libraries have titles in te reo Māori in their Ngā Pounamu Māori collections. If you are a migrant to New Zealand and would like to be able to read books in your own language, or a parent who wants your child to have the chance to see and learn to read books in your mother language Christchurch City Libraries has a World Languages Collection for you. There are books in 26 languages – from Afrikaans to Vietnamese – although a few of them are in children’s books only.  Not all of the languages are available in every library so check the webpage to find out where to go to find yours!  

And if you want to learn a new language – either your own mother tongue, or someone else’s – go to our Mango Languages page to find out more. Mango Language is an online language-learning system with access to 60 foreign languages and 17 English language courses.

Watch videos about languages

Enjoy TED Talks? Try these:

More and more, English is a global language; speaking it is perceived as a sign of being modern. But -- what do we lose when we leave behind our mother tongues? Suzanne Talhouk makes an impassioned case to love your own language, and to cherish what it can express that no other language can. In Arabic with subtitles.

There are about 7,000 languages spoken around the world -- and they all have different sounds, vocabularies and structures. But do they shape the way we think? Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky shares examples of language -- from an Aboriginal community in Australia that uses cardinal directions instead of left and right to the multiple words for blue in Russian -- that suggest the answer is a resounding yes. "The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is," Boroditsky says. "Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000."

English is fast becoming the world's universal language, and instant translation technology is improving every year. So why bother learning a foreign language? Linguist and Columbia professor John McWhorter shares four alluring benefits of learning an unfamiliar tongue.

Want to learn a new language but feel daunted or unsure where to begin? You don't need some special talent or a "language gene," says Lýdia Machová. In an upbeat, inspiring talk, she reveals the secrets of polyglots (people who speak multiple languages) and shares four principles to help unlock your own hidden language talent -- and have fun while doing it.