21 February is International Mother Language Day, a day observed annually since 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The theme of this year's event is 'Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society.'
To mark International Mother Language Day 2021, some of the Skills Centre's teaching staff share what they love about their own mother languages and why learning languages is so important.
Anne-Catherine Mechler, Teaching Fellow – French
Joyeuse Fête à toutes les langues maternelles!
Vous parlez français ? Un peu ? Beaucoup ?
Why speak French? Because it's the language of love, food, wine and fashion of course!
A language that speaks to all of your senses, bien sûr !
Dr Uwe Baumann, Teaching Fellow – German
Alles Gute zum International Tag der Muttersprache!
German is a language that is spoken by more than 100 million people worldwide, not just in Germany, Austria or parts of Switzerland but also in Liechtenstein, Luxemburg and parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, Northern Italy and France. And beyond! Imagine my surprise when I was in Ontario in Canada and heard German spoken on the street by local people. Why was that? A lot of Germans migrated to Canada (and the USA) in the 19th century and kept the language alive.
And as Germany is one of the strongest economies in the European Union and worldwide with a large labour market, it will be an advantage if you speak German, whether you work in finance, marketing and sales, engineering or the arts and media.
What I like about German is that it is a precise language with rules and mostly logical structures. And I think German is a flexible language – for example, you can change around the word order without it becoming ungrammatical.
But what I love most about German is its ability to create compound nouns. Look at this: der Gummihandschuh or in English: rubber gloves. It has combined three different words together: das Gummi – rubber, die Hand – hand, and der Schuh – shoe.
Michela Prevedello, Teaching Fellow – Italian
Buona Giornata Internazionale della Lingua Madre!
Italian is just… beautiful! People say that an Italian conversation sounds like a song, for its rhythm and melody. Hence, Italian is also considered one of the most romantic languages, the perfect language to express emotions. It is the language of music and the arts (musical terms like 'adagio', 'allegro', 'piano' are in fact Italian words).
The sound of Italian is 'round' and full as most Italian words end with vowels. Let’s focus on one of the most common words in Italian, 'allora', and appreciate its full and round sound. We use 'allora' for everything, as this expression can have a lot of different meanings: 'allora' is 'so', 'well', 'then', but it can also imply 'what are you doing?' or 'what do you want?' and many other things, depending on the context and on the way one says it.
Probably students do not think Italian is an easy language to learn, but this is not a big deal, as learning Italian is such a pleasing experience per se. It is like an amazing journey through the fascinating richness of Italy, and its different regions and dialects.
Last but not least, Italian is the only language that will allow you to use your hands whilst speaking, like Italians do. When people say that Italians talk with their hands, they are not joking!
Ana Bertolossi, Teaching Fellow – Brazilian Portuguese
Feliz Dia Internacional da Língua Materna!
What I like about my language, Brazilian Portuguese, and its variants is that they sound sonorous, smooth, and vibrant. I also feel like a different person when I speak Portuguese. I instantly become more relaxed and cheerful!
I am passionate about teaching my mother language. Portuguese is a close cousin to Spanish, Italian, and French which makes it easy to learn. I feel privileged to share my knowledge of language and culture with my students and empower them to achieve their learning objectives, whatever they might be: travel, employment, communication with relatives and friends, understanding global social and environment issues. My students are a diverse, motivated, and curious group of people and I always learn something new with them too.
On top of that, when learning a language, students develop a series of employability skills such as teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving, not even realising this is happening. Studies have shown that learning a language can also prevent a certain decline in memory that comes with age and it can help to delay the progression of dementia later in life.
Bora lá aprender português? Vamos aprender línguas? - Let's learn Portuguese? Let's learn languages?!
Tom Rewhorn, Pre-sessional Course Leader - English
Happy International Mother Language Day!
My first language is English. However, through learning other languages, I’ve learnt a lot about my own. I love how English is flexible and that through its history we have many words originating from other languages, such as ‘sick’ and ‘ill’. ‘Sick’ is originally Germanic, whereas ‘ill’ comes from Old Norse, which the Vikings spoke.
My two favourite words in the English language are 'mumble' and 'grumble', since they are onomatopoeic, and they sound like something out of Harry Potter!
There are more people who speak English as a second, or foreign language, than there are native speakers. Even though English is not the most spoken first language, it is commonly used for work and travel as a lingua franca. Indeed, nowadays many companies around the world require their employees to speak English and prove that they have a certain level of English, by taking an exam.
Ana Sevilla-Merino, Teaching Fellow – Spanish
¡Feliz Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna!
My first language is Spanish, better said, Castilian, mixed with the dialects and forms of my parents’ and family languages. The language of my first tears and my happiness.
At 11 another language came into my life: Catalan. I had never heard it before, forbidden until then, and I embraced it. Both became the languages that made me feel and tools to express those feelings. Other languages had been around me - French, Italian, Portuguese, and later English - in my childhood. Suddenly the borders opened, the wall fell, literally, and other languages appeared around me, around us. And then I went and looked for more.
And what I found was the richness of their peoples and their cultures and their feelings.
And that is why I love to learn languages, and learn that other languages are there, waiting for me, for us, to uncover the mysteries of their richness, the kindness of their words.
Follow International Mother Language Day on social media - #MotherLanguageDay - and let us know what you love about your mother language in the comments!
If you'd like to develop your foreign language skills, or learn a brand new language from scratch, the Foreign Languages team offer a range of courses in eight different languages for University of Bath students, staff and members of the public.
(Image courtesy of UNESCO)