The International Language Days


The United Nations General Assembly designates many International Days to mark important aspects of human life and history. Each international day offers many actors the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day. Organizations and offices of the United Nations system, and most importantly, governments, civil society, the public and private sectors, schools, universities and, more generally, citizens, make an international day a springboard for awareness-raising actions. UN Specialized Agencies, including UNESCO, can also proclaim World Days. The purpose of the language day is to raise awareness of the history, culture and development of the language by preparing a program of special activities and events. Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage.


As at the United Nations, the current six official languages at ICAO are: Arabic, Chinese, French, English, Russian, and Spanish. On 19 February 2010, the UN's Department of Public Information announced (through UN Doc ID OBV/853 PI/1926) an initiative of six language days to be observed throughout the year, one for each official language. On these days, multilingualism and cultural diversity is celebrated, as well as the promotion of equal use of all six official languages. The correct interpretation and translation of these six languages, in both spoken and written form, is very important to the work of the Organization, because this enables clear and concise communication on issues of global importance. These language days are also an important opportunity to express gratitude to the staff, who play a crucial role in the ability to support cooperation with and among its Member States.


International Arabic Language Day

The Arabic Language Day is observed on 18 December yearly. This day coincides with the day when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Arabic as the sixth official languages of the Organization by Resolution 3190 (XXVIII) on 18 December 1973.


The Chinese Language Day is observed annually on 20 April. The Chinese Language Day was first celebrated in 2010 on 12 November, but since 2011 the date has been 20 April, roughly corresponding to Guyu in the Chinese calendar. 20 April was chosen to pay tribute to Cangjie or Cang Jie (in simplified Chinese: 仓颉).

The date for the Chinese day was selected from Guyu ("Rain of Millet"), which is the 6th of 24 solar terms in the traditional East Asian calendars, to pay tribute to Cang Jie. The mythical figure Cang Jie is a very important figure in ancient China, claimed to be an official historian of the Yellow Emperor and the inventor of Chinese characters about 5,000 years ago. The legend is that he had four eyes and four pupils, and that when he invented the characters, the deities and ghosts cried and the sky rained millet. From then on, Chinese people celebrate the day Guyu in honour of Cang Jie. In the Gregorian calendar, it usually begins around 20 April.



Cang Jie, the Inventor of the Chinese Characters


The English Language Day is celebrated on 23 April, the date traditionally observed as both the birthday and date of death of William Shakespeare (born on 23 April 1564, English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist), who passed away on 23 April 1616. English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.



Sierra Leone 1989 - William Shakespeare - Souvenir Sheets


Journée internationale de la Francophonie

The French Language Day is observed annually on 20 March. This day was chosen as the date corresponding to the Journée internationale de la Francophonie; it refers to the birth, on 20 March 1970 in Niamey (Niger) of the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique (Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation), which was to become the Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophonie (Intergovernmental Agency of the Francophonie) in 1998  and later in 2005 the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF, International Organization of La Francophonie).

The OIF is an institution, dedicated to promoting the French language and political, educational, economic and cultural cooperation among the countries which are members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.


The International Mother Language Day is a worldwide annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. In 1999, the Government of Bangladesh proposed to UNESCO that 21 February be declared as International Mother Language Day to commemorate the events of 1952; it was first observed on 21 February 2000; it was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly with the adoption of the Resolution 56/262 in 2002.

The idea to celebrate International Mother Language Day was the initiative of Bangladesh. On 21 February 1952, students and activists in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) protested against the Pakistani government's decision to impose Urdu as the only official language of the country; during the protest, police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing several of them.

Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear.


A.S. Pushkin

The Russian Language Day is observed annually on 6 June. The UN Russian Language Day coincides with the birthday of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (6 June 1799-1837, in Russian: Александр Сергеевич Пушкин), Russian poet who is considered the father of modern Russian language and whose genius spanned novels, drama, poetry, and much more.


Yearly on 23 April, the Spanish Language Day celebrates the most revered novelist, poet and playwright in the Spanish language, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (born in 1547 - assumed), who passed away on 23 April 1616. Cervantes was a Spanish writer widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists; he is best known for his novel Don Quixote, a work often cited as both the first modern novel and one of the pinnacles of world literature. Coincidentally, the date of Cervantes’s death coincides with that of the most prestigious English playwright, William Shakespeare. Hence, both languages (English and Spanish) share the day. The Spanish Language Day was first celebrated on 12 October (corresponding to the Día de la Hispanidad).


Benin 2016 - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra - Souvenir Sheet


On 24 May 2017, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 71/288 declaring 30 September International Translation Day. This day is dedicated to recognizing the role of professional translation in connecting nations and in fostering peace, development, and camaraderie between linguistically distinct nations. Without the assistance of language professionals, it would have been very difficult to overcome linguistic boundaries and maintain good communication. The International Translation Day coincides with the feast day of St. Jerome who is considered the patron saint of translators and the father of translators. St. Jerome was a priest from North-eastern Italy, who is known mostly for his endeavour of translating most of the Bible into Latin from the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament; he also translated parts of the Hebrew Gospel into Greek.

The International Federation of Translators (FIT), which was established in 1953, launched the idea of recognizing a translation day to promote the profession all over the world. The FIT is the federation of professional associations of interpreters, translators, and terminologists working in areas as diverse as literary, scientific and technical spheres, the public service, court and legal settings, conference interpreting, media and diplomatic fields and academia. The FIT Secretariat is located in Paris, France.


St. Jerome in his study,

painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494), Italian Renaissance painter.