Today (21 February), we celebrate International Mother Language Day.
This was established by UNESCO and has been observed throughout the world since the year 2000.
In Aotearoa, we are fortunate to live in a multicultural society. While there may be three official languages here, there are also over 160 ethnic groups living within the country according to the last census!
Migrants, refugees, long-term settlers and those born in New Zealand who identify their ethnicity as African, Asian, Continental European, Latin American and Middle Eastern, are classified as Ethnic Communities.
In Wellington alone, Hindi, Northern Chinese, Yue and Tagalog are some of the most commonly spoken languages.
Ethnic Communities Engagement Lead Ra Uniyaal says, having a large and diverse population, as well as crisis situations, including emergencies, brings the importance of having interpreting services to light.
“Communicating in a language that is not the mother tongue can be stressful and may also lead to increasing chances of misunderstanding and misinformation. There are many people in the community who have limited English, or English as a second language. This results in reducing connection to the community and access to information and support. Being able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate support is extremely important.”
The significance of providing information and support across many languages was visible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information on Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) and COVID-19 was translated and made available in numerous languages. The summary of Te Pae Tata (Interim Health Plan) was also made available in several of the Pacific and ethnic languages.
Ra said that being able to provide information during this period of time, knowing that it would be received without any confusion, was really reassuring.
“Last year several community groups and NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) were able to distribute RATs along with translated information. It pleased us immensely that this was very well received.”
Interpreting services – which includes working with trained interpreters/translators – is critical in a clinical environment and is vital in achieving health equity. To know more about these available services click here.
So, why don’t you try and greet a friend in their mother language today! Or starting learning a new language as that helps with memory, problem-solving, and more. Acknowledging this day helps us celebrate diversity of thought, faith and belief. It also helps in reducing inequities and fosters growth and success as a community.