The Philippines is home to roughly 85 million Filipinos. Of this number, 84 per cent are literate. The blind population is 467,000 while the deaf is estimated at 12 million. (Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.)
With the archipelagic situation of the country composed of 7,000 islands, it is no wonder that the Philippines has different languages. In Paul Lewis’s study on Ethnologue: Languages of the World, the Philippines has 175 listed individual languages. Of these, 171 are living languages and the four have no known speakers. This is not to mention that there are a number of languages used by immigrants in the country. These include American Sign Language, Basque, French (700 speakers), Hindi (2,420), Indonesian (2,580), Japanese (2,900), Korean, Sindhi (20,000), Standard German (960), Vietnamese. (http://www.ethnologue.com) According to Ethnologue, except for English, Spanish, Hokkien (Lan-nang), Cantonese, Mandarin, and Chavacano, all of the languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian language family.
The national language of the Philippines is Filipino and the lingua franca is English. The language first spoken by children depends on where they are situated or what their parents use in domestic communication. Naturally, those in the Ilocos region would learn to communicate in Ilokano while those in Cebu would speak Cebuano before they could speak, say Filipino or English. The first language they learn and eventually use in everyday conversation is called the “mother tongue” or the “mother language”.
The global arena is a diverse, multicultural place where skill in different languages gives one the advantage over the other in the professional world. Multilingual is now translated to being more competitive and being more in-demand in the job market. Even in learning, those who use their mother language in teaching and learning concepts learn more effectively than those who use second languages.
The multilinguistic approach to learning has become recognized by learning specialists around the world. Even the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has highlighted the importance of mother tongue as part of the right to education and encourages its member states to promote instruction and education in the mother tongue. As such, the 30th session of the General Conference of UNESCO in 1999 decided that the Organization would launch and observe an International Mother Language Day on 21 February every year throughout the world with the objective to promote linguistic diversity and multilingual education, and to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue. (UNESCO)
The theme of the International Mother Language day is “Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education”, and this underscores the importance of mother tongue in instruction and education.
The right to education is the very reason why languages have been given premium in line with development. And development always starts from one’s access to basic education—without prejudice nor discrimination. This is why UNESCO’s Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) prohibits discrimination in education “based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth” (UNESCO). There has been a growing understanding of different cultures, different languages, and mutual respect of each despite the differences.
The right to receive education in one’s mother tongue or native language is recognized in several international instruments. Under the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992), people are afforded the right to learn their mother language and to learn using their mother language. Provisions for education in mother tongue are contained in several international conventions, namely, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990). (UNESCO)
Multilingual education which entails the use of three languages – the mother tongue, a regional or national language and an international language - are necessary to acquiring knowledge and different levels of competencies, according to UNESCO.
International Mother Language Day originated as the international recognition of Language Movement Day, which has been commemorated in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) since 1952. This was when a number of students were killed by the Pakistani police in Dhaka during Bengali Language Movement protests. Language Movement Day was a demonstation staged on February 21 of 1952 by students clamoring that their language, Bangla, be recognized as one of ther two languages in Pakistan. The Pakistan government then declared that Urdu would be the sole national language which caused the protests among the predominantly Bengali-speaking citizens of the area. These students' deaths in fighting for the right to use their mother language are now remembered on International Mother Language Day. (www.wikipedia.org)
International Mother Language Day has been celebrated every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. With the observance of such, mother languages around the world are hoped to be looked up on, given importance, and further enriched. After all, language has been said to be the reflection of the society, of civilization, and the richness of one’s mind depends on the diversity of the languages that one uses.
The 121 listed languages in the Philippines, those that are unknown but are still existing among minorities, and those that have-beens are all tools that Filipinos could utilize to learn in the most effective way possible. After all, education has been known to be a right, not a privelege, and this applies to all, regardless of region, economic status, gender, and most of all, mother tongue.