Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of International Literacy Day 2019
“Literacy and Multilingualism”
8 September 2019
Our world is rich and diverse with about 7,000 living languages. These languages are instruments for communication, engagement in lifelong learning, and participation in society and the world of work. They are also closely linked with distinctive identities, cultures, worldviews, and knowledge systems. Embracing linguistic diversity in education and literacy development is therefore a key part of developing inclusive societies that respect “diversity” and “difference”, upholding human dignity.
Today, multilingualism – the use of more than one language in daily life – has become much more common with greater human mobility and the growing ubiquity of multimodal and instantaneous communication. Its shape has also evolved with globalization and digitalization. While the use of certain languages has expanded for cross-country and community dialogue, numerous minority and indigenous languages have been endangered. These trends have implications for literacy development.
While different aspects of policies and practice interact for the promotion of literacy, building a solid literacy base in a mother language, before moving to a second or foreign language, has multiple benefits. However, about 40% of the world’s population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. We need to change this by making policies and practice more linguistically and culturally relevant, enriching multilingual literate environments and exploring the potential of digital technology. For more than seven decades, UNESCO has supported mother language-based, multilingual approaches to education as a means to enhance education quality and intercultural understandings. Nelson Mandela once said: “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” Engaging with both head and mind is a key for effective learning.
This year is the International Year of Indigenous languages; it also marks the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Special Needs Education, where the Salamanca Statement on Inclusive Education was adopted. In solidarity with these special occasions, and, on the occasion of International Literacy Day 2019, UNESCO invites you to rethink literacy in our contemporary multilingual world as part of the right to education and a means to create more inclusive and linguistically and culturally diverse societies.