February 21 marks International Mother Language Day: an annual observance proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 to promote awareness of the world’s vast linguistic and cultural diversity.
UNESCO’s focus this year is on multilingual education, which makes it a perfect day for the U of T community to reflect on the extraordinary breadth of languages that are regularly spoken, written, taught and learned by its members — enabling them to reach out to other communities and form new relationships. New languages are also an asset in professions such as business, medicine and many others. Mother languages connect us all to our heritage, and the study of new ones improves our cognition, and are simply beautiful for their own sake.
For these and many other reasons, U of T has long been at the forefront of postsecondary language instruction, preservation and research. And to celebrate this, U of T’s Global Language Initiative (GLI) will be holding its first-ever Language and Culture Day on March 10.
The drop-in event will take place at Father Madden Hall at St. Michael’s College between 2 and 4:30 pm and is open to everyone.
Some of the many academic units represented are dedicated to specific languages and literatures, while others — such as classics or African studies — situate language within the context of politics, history and art. Exhibits will vary according to each unit, but participants can expect offerings such as crash language lessons, music and refreshments.
Language and Culture Day is the latest gathering and the biggest in-person event organized by U of T’s GLI — a collaborative effort uniting 15 departments in the Faculty of Arts & Science to increase access to language instruction across disciplines, with the aim of promoting intercultural competence and global fluency.
“It’s an opportunity for us to connect with each other, and for us to see that we are really part of a multilingual community,” says Paolo Frascà, GLI co-lead and assistant professor, teaching stream in the Department of Italian Studies.
From Swahili to Hungarian to Sanskrit and Turkish, the University’s range of language-based programs and courses is astounding. This is unsurprising, given the richness of Toronto’s linguistic and cultural landscape. “Toronto is such a special context for all of this, because we have what’s called a ‘hyper-diverse’ student body,” says GLI co-lead Hang-Sun Kim, associate professor, teaching stream in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures. “It’s wonderful if we can help students maintain a connection to their heritage, but it’s also important for them to discover new worldviews and connect with people from other places.”
The event will showcase widely spoken languages such as Spanish, French, German and Italian. But members of the U of T community can also learn about many other, lesser-known tongues, and see how dedicated the University is to the revival and preservation of languages that may be endangered, such as many Indigenous languages.
“We want to show that this lies at the core of the University’s mission of inclusion and diversity,” says Frascà. “We often talk about diversity in many terms, but linguistic diversity is often forgotten in that conversation.”
Frascà and Kim want every guest at Language and Culture Day to “be able to tour the world in one room”: and maybe, in the process, broaden their perspective of what it means to live in that world. “In learning new languages, you challenge yourself,” says Kim. “You start to understand that what’s common sense to you might not be common sense to someone else. That opening up of perspectives is so important. It’s really about recognizing otherness and treating others with respect.”
Language and Culture Day
Where: Father Madden Hall, St. Michael’s College, 100 St. Joseph Street
When: March 10, 2–4:30 pm
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