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Viet Nam Celebrates International Mother Language Day

© UNICEF Vietnam/2013/Dinh Hong Anh
Nine year-old Vang Thi Thu Ha, from Lao Cai, has been studying Mong as her first language over the past three years.

Ha Noi, 21 February 2013 – On the occasion of International Mother Language Day, first proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 and commemorated annually on 21 February since 2000, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), UNICEF and UNESCO jointly celebrated Viet Nam’s linguistic, cultural diversity and promoted the use of mother languages to improve ethnic minority education. At an all-day event in Doan Thi Diem primary school, in Ha Noi, Government representatives, donors and international partners, along with ethnic minority students, teachers, parents and community leaders, shared experience on the use of mother languages for improving the education and well-being of children and the community at large.

“We encourage teaching in the mother tongue, which facilitates the fight against illiteracy and contributes to the quality of education. The protection of languages ensures also that rare and indigenous knowledge is safeguarded and handed down. By giving each of us the means to make ourselves heard and be respected, this is also a force for social inclusion”, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova emphasised in her message on International Mother Language Day.

“Mother language is a vital resource for each person and for community development. Through language, people communicate, learn and  share the meaning and experience of their sense of individual and community identity. Language is at the center of human activities”, said the representative of the Ministry of Education and Training, at the event.

“This celebration is of paramount importance, as it brings key stakeholders together to collectively recognise that using children's mother language can greatly help them to learn better and attain better educational outcomes”, said Mr. Hartmut Pfortner, UNICEF Viet Nam’s Representative a.i.

© UNICEF Vietnam/2013/Dinh Hong Anh
UNICEF Representative a.i. Hartmut Pfortner speaking at International Mother Language Day celebrations in Ha Noi.

With ethnic minority groups comprising over 13 per cent of its total population, Viet Nam has experience in using ethnic minority children's mother tongue in their learning. With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Training has been implementing an initiative on mother tongue-based bilingual education since 2008 at selected pre-schools and primary schools, in the provinces of Lao Cai, Gia Lai and Tra Vinh.

The experience has generated positive results where ethnic minority children who use their mother tongue as the language of instruction perform better than their peers who start formal education in a second language. Lao Cai and Gia Lai provincial authorities have decided to expand the approach and other provinces have committed to apply the methodology. These commitments, combined with stronger national policies and public investment to support wider application of the project across Viet Nam, will allow the country to further embrace its linguistic and cultural diversity, contributing to its equitable and sustainable socio-economic development.

A massive body of evidence in the world - over 1,500 published studies - has proven that well-designed mother tongue-based education dramatically improves the academic success of children.  Students who develop strong basic academic skills in their mother language and then systematically acquire the national language do much better in school than children who are forced to study in languages they do not speak. 

“Books for Mother Tongue Education” is the theme for this year’s International Mother Language Day. Books are crucial tools for expression that help to enrich languages, while recording their changes over time. Books are the pillars for lifelong learning and building inclusive, resilient and sustainable learning societies for all.

The Mission of the United Nations in Viet Nam

The United Nations, in partnership with the Government and people of Viet Nam, works to ensure that all Vietnamese people enjoy an increasingly healthy and prosperous life with greater human dignity and expanded choices. Collectively and through its individual agencies, the United Nations cares and creates opportunities for the poor and most vulnerable, and for youth, to whom the future belongs.

In accordance with the United Nations Charter and Millennium Declaration, the United Nations advances the principles of equality and social justice, while providing impartial advice, technical expertise, access to global knowledge and local experience to meet Viet Nam's development challenge.

For further information please contact:

Research Center for Ethnic Minority Education, Viet Nam Institute of Educational Sciences,

Ministry of Education and Training; Tel. +84 4 3869 4044. Email:

Ms. Sandra Bisin, UN Communication Office; Tel. +84 4 3822 4383 ext 102; Email:

Ms. Nguyet Hoang Minh, Communication and Information Programme Coordinator, UNESCO in Viet Nam; Tel. +84 4 3747 0275/6 ext 31; Email:



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