Celebrating Linguistic Diversity on International Mother Language Day

On 21 February, we celebrate International Mother Language Day, aimed at promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

 A world map denoting the native languages spoken in different countries. Image courtesy of Daniel Dalet on d-maps.com.

2,200—that is the estimated number of languages spoken in Asia Pacific, more than any other region in the world. Check out some interesting facts about Asian languages that you might have missed out learning in school:

  • Mandarin Chinese has the most native speakers of any language, with an estimated 12.5 percent of the world's population speaking it as their first language. If you are planning to pick up Mandarin, don’t be daunted by the fact that it has 50,000 characters—practice always makes perfect!

  • There are 830 listed languages in the island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG), accounting for the greatest concentration of linguistic diversity on Earth today. Sitting in what is known as a language hot-spot—an area where many languages face the threat of extinction—linguists from National Geographic’s Enduring Voices programme are surveying many in PNG to better understand the world’s languages and the forces that drive language extinction.

  • Asia is home to some of the world’s most endangered languages, including the Ainu in Japan, Dumi in Nepal and Manchu from China. The youngest speakers of these languages are often grandparents themselves, who are only able to speak them partially and infrequently.

While this rich variety of languages continues to shape and preserve the unique cultural identities of many Asian communities, language barriers can be a significant concern.

Today, technology has the opportunity to play a pivotal role in bridging this gap, enabling people to retain the use of their mother language, but still communicate with the rest of the world. Skype Translator, a new feature from Skype, provides users with the ability to speak another language without learning one. Translator is currently available in English and Spanish, with more languages coming soon. In addition, you can send instant messages across more than 40 languages. Watch this video to see how it works:

Are you ready to experience having your conversations translated into another language in near real-time? Try it out this week and get into the spirit of International Mother Language Day—you might be surprised by the many types of languages you encounter!