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International Mother Language Day Celebration in El Tajín
Ms Sanz at the 2015 International Mother Language Day celebration in El Tajín, Veracruz
23 February 2015/ UNESCO Office in Mexico

Mexico is one of the ten nations with the greatest linguistic diversity in the world. Seven million Mexicans speak one of its 68 native languages, a sum that does not include 365 dialects.

For UNESCO, quality language teaching ensures integration into the educational system, society and greater access to information.

In Mexico, International Mother Language Day was commemorated in the El Tajín archaeological area, in Papantla, Veracruz, on 21 February 2015, under the slogan “Inclusive Education through and with Language – Language Matters”.

Participating in the ceremony, held before the Council of Elders in the town of Totonaca, were the Governor of the State of Veracruz, Mr Javier Duarte de Ochoa; the Secretary of Public Education, Mr Emilio Chuayffet; the Director and Representative of the UNESCO Office in Mexico, Ms Nuria Sanz; the director of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI), Ms Nubia Mayorga Delgado, and the General Director of the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI), Mr Javier López Sánchez.

The Secretary of Public Education stressed that in Mexico “today almost seven million people talk one of the 68 native languages of our territory, without counting the 365 dialects. For this reason, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ranks us among the 10 nations with the greatest linguistic diversity in the world”. He added that the current government has undertaken a vast educational reform programme, promoting public policies to reinforce intercultural education, and he announced the delivery of eight million new monolingual, bilingual and plurililngual textbooks free of charge.

During her speech, the Director and Representative of the UNESCO Office in Mexico, after recalling that there are over 600 languages in Latin America and the Caribbean and that 20% of them are of a cross-border nature, stated that “the mother tongue is what precedes and shelters us, names the world and enables us to transmit our identity”. She further declared that UNESCO feels committed to all intercultural education programmes in Mexico, and announced the collaboration between the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) and the UNESCO Office in Mexico in order to step up literacy actions in indigenous languages and interculturality.

For UNESCO, “appropriate language teaching” is essential if students are to benefit from quality education, lifelong learning and access to information. These goals may be reached if there is a pedagogical strategy which promotes the use of at least three languages, one of which should be the mother language or the first language. Language teaching should also be considered as a means to ensure that students will later act as citizens of the world in favour of change, both at the local and international levels.

“International Mother Language Day”, according to UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, “is a moment for all of us to raise the flag for the importance of the mother tongue to all educational efforts, to enhance the quality of learning and to reach the unreached”.

In this respect, it has been determined that children who study in their mother tongue learn better and faster than those that study in their second language. It has also been found that the sooner children learn the language of the home, the better results they have in the tests they later take throughout the school cycle, in the official language of instruction. Aside from cognitive skills, there are other benefits to be had, for students become more self-assured, have a greater self-esteem and participate more actively in class. In Latin America, UNESCO fosters inclusive education through bilingual intercultural methods.

The Governor of Veracruz thanked the UNESCO Office in Mexico for its collaboration with the State, and especially with El Tajín and the Totonacapan community. Papantla is the Mexican municipality with the greatest diversity of heritage recognized by UNESCO, consisting of El Tajin, Pre-Hispanic City, considered one of the most important in ancient Mexico and in the world, declared a World Heritage Site in 1992; the ritual ceremony of the Voladores (flying men), a ceremony of indigenous identity protected by a Safeguarding Plan to ensure its preservation, declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009; and the Centre for Indigenous Arts, an educational institution with 14 Houses of Tradition which follow the Totonac teaching model, included in the Register of Best Safeguarding Practices in 2012.

More information:

Message of the Director-General on the occasion of International Mother Language Day in 2015

Infographic on 2015 International Mother Language Day Education in a Plurilingual World

Languages in Education

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