Celebrating the International Mother Language Day: How companies can promote inclusion online
Have you ever taken the time to think about what your mother language means to you? Chances are you haven’t. Our first language comes so naturally to us that we often don’t pay much attention to it. And yet our mother tongue is what shapes us. It’s the language we have a special connection to no matter how many languages we end up speaking. In a world where English is the dominant lingua franca, it is easy to forget that not everyone has the same connection to this language as a native speaker. For example, think about the words love and hate. For someone born and raised in the US, these words have a strong emotional connotation. They evoke an immediate reaction. However, they don’t have the same weight for a Swede who occasionally speaks English, even if they speak the language very well.
Our mother language is an important part of who we are and where we came from – and we need to do more to include less common native languages in our society. To explain why, we would like to draw your attention to a special holiday: International Mother Language Day.
The origins of International Mother Language Day
Let’s start by taking a look at the history of International Mother Language Day. What started this holiday?
The International Mother Language Day has some tragic origins. It was founded by UNESCO in November 1999 at the request of the Bengali Language Movement. This movement began many years before, amidst the conflict between what is now Bangladesh and Pakistan. In 1952, the government of the formerly united countries announced Urdu as the sole official language, despite the fact that less than 5% of the population spoke it. This lead to heavy protests on February 21, during which a number of people died. It became one of the key events that led to the split of East and West Pakistan. Since then, February 21st was the day of the martyr in Bangladesh, until UNESCO accepted the Bangladeshis’ request to declare it the International Mother Language Day.
This day is a reminder to celebrate and promote the diversity of language and culture across the world. In our everyday life, most of us encounter only a few languages on a daily basis, even when exploring the seemingly endless online world. Isn’t it weird that of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world, only a couple of hundred languages are used online? It’s clear that society, both online and offline, focuses only on widely spoken languages. This seems logical. These are the most common languages that help us connect with one another, both nationally and internationally.
There is a downside though. Those who do not speak those major languages as their first language are alienated. Not being able to use your mother tongue result in a loss of identity and culture. Even if someone understands and speaks a language like English or Spanish and can take part in everyday life with no major difficulties, something is missing. The language spoken at home is part of who they are and where they came from.
Every two weeks, a minority language dies. By letting this happen, we are allowing years and years of cultural history to vanish with it. Holding on to your mother language when living abroad is a difficult undertaking already. Now imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t quickly Google the right grammatical form of a word before sending your grandpa a birthday message. If you are one of few people in your surroundings who speaks your mother tongue it can feel lonely and isolating, and, frankly, quite scary. That is why International Mother Language Day is celebrated as part of an initiative aiming to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.
How companies can support the good cause behind the International Mother Language Day
Now that we have talked about the origins of International Mother Language Day and why it is important, it’s time to take a look at this year’s theme: “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society”. This is a topic that is far less abstract than the concept of International Mother Language Day itself. It raises the important question: how can we, as companies, aid the inclusion of people with a less common mother tongue in our society? The answer is simple: by making our content, information, and advice accessible in the language of those individuals. There are two ways to do this:
Adding foreign languages for social inclusion
Let’s look at a real-life example. According to the language learning app Duolingo, the language that is being learned the most using the app in Sweden is Swedish – mostly by refugees. These individuals are making an effort to learn the local language to integrate into Swedish life. After all, it’s very difficult take part in any social or professional activities if you can’t communicate with local people. Companies active in the Swedish market can easily support these people and make them feel included. This can be done by making their website available not only in Swedish but also in Arabic or Somali, for example.
For some, including the mother language of refugees on their Swedish websites may seem counterproductive, as language learning is an important part of the cultural integration process. However, it is just as important for these individuals to feel acknowledged, heard, and included right from the beginning. Feeling welcome and supported can lead to positive feelings towards the country and its people. This would, consequently, make people want to learn its language. Besides, being able to stay on top of relevant information, trends, and other country-specific topics of conversation is key when it comes to social inclusion.
Adding local languages for preservation
Another option would be the inclusion of unofficial or less common languages spoken in a country. Take a look at the map featured on the website of the Endangered Languages Project. Even in the US alone, there are plenty of endangered languages that could benefit from being lifted into the online world. It would allow people to interact with their mother language, share it, and bond with other speakers.
And this act of inclusion would have benefits for your organization too. In a previous article, we have laid out why it is desirable for a company to translate their website and marketing material into the mother language of their target audience. The same perks apply here, with the addition that acknowledging speakers of a language is likely to increase how positively they perceive your company. And a positive brand image is never a bad thing!
Generally, the main advantages of translating your content into your target audience’s mother language are:
- Avoiding mental strain and misinterpretations caused by reading a language that is not your mother tongue
- Increasing the accessibility of your valuable information as well as your products or services
- Evoking an emotional response due to the deep connection of the audience to their native language
What to consider when translating your content
If you would like to contribute to the inclusion of people by translating your content, there is one golden rule: do not let an amateur translator take on this challenge.
It may be tempting to save some money and let your friend’s acquaintance translate your website. But this defeats the point. In order to accurately translate content, be it for a medical company or a supermarket chain, it requires a translator with two traits. Firstly, the linguist needs to be specialized in the topic to avoid the mistranslation of specific terminology. Secondly, the translator himself needs to be a native speaker of the target language. Not only that, but he needs to be living and breathing the culture of the target audience. The same goes for the proofreader. This is the only way to guarantee the quality and correctness of the translation, as the connection to the language and culture is of utmost importance here. It always is, but especially so when your aim is to actively include speakers of the language in society. A professional translation agency such as Nimus translations can find the right linguists for your content and provide you with ISO-certified translation services.
We hope that our article about International Mother Language Day enabled you to reflect on the people and languages that are often overlooked and to consider whether translating your content into another language could have positive consequences.
Would you like to make use of our services or know more about what languages you should translate your content into? Please do not hesitate to contact us – we would be happy to help you out!
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