Mother Language Day Gets Local in Maputo Province, Mozambique

Language. It is what separates humans from other species. At birth our brains begin to develop language skills at a rapid rate. A mother language is formed and becomes part of our very being, impacting our identity, social integration, education, and many aspects of daily life. Planet Aid's experience with the Food for Knowledge program demonstrates new ways to preserve language and culture.

Globalization is not always kind to a mother language. The spread of digital communication and other factors are putting many mother tongue languages at risk. The United Nations estimates some 43 percent of the world's approximately 7,000 languages are at risk of extinction. With the loss of each language, unique traditions and cultural heritage are also lost.

The Importance of Mother Languages

Preserving language and cultural diversity as countries develop economically and socially is challenging. According to UNESCO, more than 70 percent of all languages in the world are found in just 20 nation states, including some of the poorest countries in the world. Of all the languages in the world, less than 2 percent are included in any form of digital communication. Nonetheless, there is cause for optimism. Some 7,000 languages worldwide have survived long periods of mass colonization. Bilingualism and cultural identities are strong and resilient. Mother Language Day has been celebrated each February 21 since 1999 to increase awareness and to focus on preserving the world's language diversity.

Increased awareness of the use and importance of mother tongue languages has helped support educational programs that incorporate international methods while preserving local heritage and culture. A closer look at Planet Aid's experience in Mozambique provides an example of this. Despite nearly five centuries as a Portuguese colony, approximately 43 languages remain in use across Mozambique today, and only about half the population speak the official language of Portuguese. While this linguistic diversity represents a wide range of local cultures, it has presented challenges to the government in providing public education programs throughout the country. In the capital province of Maputo, for example, most families speak Changana or Rhonga, but for many years, school instruction was only in Portuguese.

Addressing Illiteracy and Closing the Gap

Planet Aid's Food for Knowledge (FFK) Program implemented early-grade reading interventions to address this gap as a part of its work in Maputo province. Food for Knowledge is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, and implemented by ADPP Mozambique, in partnership with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), Cambridge Education, and the Government of Mozambique. FFK's early-grade level reading intervention aims to increase literacy levels in both the Mother Languages and Portuguese. Decoding and phonic skills are taught to children in their mother tongue languages. These skills are transferrable to Portuguese instruction at higher grade levels. The program also trains teachers in mother tongue instruction. Achievement gaps are shrinking as central language and cultural traditions are preserved.

This video will give you a glimpse of both language and learning.