Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Global Language Advocacy Day 2022 - some thoughts

Today, 22 February 2022, has been announced as the first Global Language Advocacy Day (GLAD22) by the Global Coalition for Language Rights (GCLR). I only learned of it yesterday, which was International Mother Language Day (IMLD), so have only some first impressions to offer. I'll share those below along with some quick thoughts on advocacy.

First, I think it is great to have another day after IMLD to continue to think about, discuss, and do something with and for diverse languages. GCLR apparently picked the date with something like that in mind. IMLD and GLAD22 contrast with and also complement each other, which may potentially be very positive if the new observance continues.

GCLR is a coalition of several organizations - companies, NGOs - involved in human rights or language work, plus at least one institution of higher learning. So GLAD22 is the creation of this association, and not an observation agreed upon by an international organization, as is the case with IMLD. That is the first of several differences between GLAD22 and IMLD.

Another difference is that while IMLD, which has been observed annually for over two decades now, is truly international, GLAD22 - its first year - apparently had no activities in or relating to Africa. One imagines this will change before a second Language Advocacy Day, but this lacuna is the main reason that I wanted to post about GLAD22 on Beyond Niamey (watch this space?).

Finally, at the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that IMLD is mainly for the speakers, and GLAD22 is largely for allies. The former is essential, and the latter is important - in some cases perhaps critically so - but also tricky.

Advocacy - and I accept that I would fall into the category of an advocate, for the work I've chosen to do relating to African languages over the years - can ideally help positive change. The down side of advocacy, as I see it, is the potential for bringing one's own agenda, personality, and even misunderstandings into others' space. That's especially problematic when there is a difference of power (position) of the advocate and those s/he advocates for. (In international development, for example, I've noted the dynamic where outside experts effectively dominate all positions in a discussion about others' way of life.)

Which is not to argue against advocacy, but rather to advocate (!) both for awareness of the contexts in which one is advocating (e.g., the power differential) and for as deep a familiarity as is possible with the realities of those (or that) for which one is advocating. (I'm still thinking about this particular set of issues.)

In any event, hopefully Global Language Advocacy Day will develop in a positive way, connect with Africa, and complement IMLD.

Also, it is perhaps not coincidental that GLAD22 was initiated in this, the first year of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL). So one also hopes for constructive synergisms of effort and effect there as well.

Monday, February 21, 2022

IMLD 2022: Using technology for multilingual learning

Source: IMLD2022 social media pack. (Yes, the laptop graphic is
superposed on the photo)

The theme of the 2022 edition of International Mother Language Day (21 February) is "Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities." According to UNESCO's homepage for IMLD 2022, the focus of this year's observation is "the potential role of technology to advance multilingual education and support the development of quality teaching and learning for all."

Having a long-time interest in languages, technology, and development (with learning fundamental in that nexus), I'm personally happy to see the highlighting of  multilingualism and technology in education.

At the same time, one is well aware that multilingualism is often not a relationship of equals. Some languages are "well-resourced" in terms of materials, support for use in information and communication technologies, policy agendae, and monetary budgets. Other languages, including the mother languages of Africa, tend not to have these benefits in the same measure or at all.

So while it is a positive step to have all languages be included in multilingual approaches - as opposed to being marginalized or excluded from education and public discourse - I see an implicit call in the theme of this year's IMLD for attention to strengthening the position of the "less-resourced" languages among them. It would be helpful to make that point explicit.