Episode 96 – Young Voices from Mother Language Day

Its About Language Episode 96 From the Kids of Mother Language Day 2023
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 96 - Young Voices from Mother Language Day

“Today I’m really hoping to see lots and lots of different cultures sit up on that stage going together, collaborating, seeing how just all over the world, if people can come together in one place, seeing how well we can collaborate and seeing that feuds and all that were of the past. And just if we can all come here and celebrate each other’s culture, the world will be a much, much better place.” Noah Gebremichael (Eritrea)

Let’s follow up Episode 95 in Edmonton, Alberta for Mother Language Day with Antonella Cortese, IHLA, and the many heritage schools coming together with some voices and presentations of the youth participants themselves.

As you listen to the podcast, hear the dedication, joy, insights, and humanity in the voices of the young adults in this episode. Reflect on the hope they are bringing to the world.

The International Heritage Language Association continues to share this amazing experience through its newsletter, which I share here now with you.

Watch the videos, look at the photos, and read the heartfelt reflections of participants and their teachers, families, organization leaders, and community members.

Perhaps it is time for YOUR area of the world to celebrate Mother Language Day with a recognition of the power of language and culture to bring a positive identity to individuals, groups, and humanity as a whole?

Watch the overview video here: International Mother Language Day, Unesco – Edmonton, Alberta (ihla.ca)

Access the Newsletter here:

Enjoy the podcast.

Click to listen:

Episode 96 Young Voices from Mother Language Day

Scroll down for full transcript.

Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.



0:00:35.3 Norah Jones: So this is the first recording as part of the Mother Language Day celebration for the 20th anniversary here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. And I have, thanks to the young man I’m about to introduce, the opportunity to be able to conduct my podcasts here in the midst of all this excitement. So why don’t you introduce yourself?

0:00:58.3 Noah: Hi, I’m Noah. I was helping out with the Eritrean Community School, but I saw there were some problems, I came over to help and one thing led to another and now I’m here.

0:01:07.6 Norah Jones: And Noah, talk about what it is that you’re here for. What are you going to be doing? Why are you participating in this Mother Language Day celebration, and as part of your exhibit and part of your presentations?

0:01:23.6 Noah: Well Norah, I’ve always been a strong believer of my culture. I’ve always been trying to stay with this as close as I can even though I’m millions of miles away from its origin. And now as part of Mother Language Day, I’m happy to come here and celebrate with everybody as different cultures from all over the world come together. And I’m super happy, excited to be able to help everybody get along really, really well.

0:01:47.7 Norah Jones: Tell us about your experience with your cultural and language studies. What kind of school do you go to? How often do you go and what do you do there?

0:02:00.2 Noah: Well, my school… Well, myself, I was born in Eritrea and I was raised there for a couple years, so I had a pretty good understanding. But when I came here I found that I started to lose my culture and my language. So where I joined was this Eritrean Community School where every Saturday you can go and they’ll teach more to bring out that native language. And I found it was a really, really good way to connect with my culture and my language and my people back home.

0:02:27.3 Norah Jones: And what do you think, to continue your story, what kind of difference has it made in your life to be able to have this network and this community here in Edmonton?

0:02:42.5 Noah: I found that people all over, if I find other Eritreans, they too speak Tigrinya and I’m able to talk with them a lot more relaxed, especially adults who are new and immigrants, if they’re feeling lost, I can help them out. If I can help translate when there’s confusion. And I found that it really helps me be a member of my community all over the place.

0:03:04.3 Norah Jones: There are perhaps some young people listening to this podcast who may wonder if they should make the extra effort to connect up with their heritage. What would you say to them?

0:03:17.8 Noah: Oh, for sure. Makes you a 100% put in the effort because I’m telling you, whatever effort you put in, you’ll get 10 times the reward because every single time you’ll see how much happier it is to… You’ll see someone of your culture being so happy to finally be able to see someone they can communicate with, someone they can understand, someone who can help them through, maybe if they’re an immigrant, through some very, very trying times.

0:03:41.4 Norah Jones: Now, some of the folks that are listening do not have the background of you having been born in the culture and continuing your use of your origin language. Perhaps it’s someone who’s grandparents were from a culture. Does it make a difference then, do you think that it’s still worthwhile if the person is starting, if you will, almost from scratch, but with a heritage background?

0:04:09.6 Noah: I would say for sure still do it. It might take a little bit more effort, but here’s the thing. You have your family there, you have your grandparents who can teach you the language. And if you can find a school, that would be really, really great ’cause they can help you too. And between the school and your at home with family, they can definitely carry your way through giving you a fluency in that language and understanding their culture.

0:04:31.4 Norah Jones: What are you looking forward to experiencing today during this language day celebration?

0:04:38.6 Noah: Today? I’m really hoping to see lots and lots of different cultures sit up on that stage going together, collaborating, seeing how just all over the world, if people can come together in one place, seeing how well we can collaborate and seeing that feuds and all that were of the past. And just if we can all come here and celebrate each other’s culture, the world will be a much, much better place.

0:05:02.3 Norah Jones: Sometimes there are folks, I presume here in Canada and also in the United States, frankly, that will say it’s not that important to hold onto the heritage language. It’s important to come into the mainstream. What kind of gift, if you feel that it is a gift, do those who study their heritage language bring to the society?

0:05:27.4 Noah: Well, here’s the thing. A society isn’t made of one type of person doing the exact same thing. A society is a mosaic of multiple different people from different backgrounds and experiences. And by learning your language and your culture, it’s not that you’re becoming different or out, you’re not gonna become ousted. You’re gonna become a working piece of this huge puzzle machine that is society.

0:05:53.5 Norah Jones: So almost you become more yourself in the middle of this society in which you find yourself.

0:05:57.8 Noah: Exactly.

0:05:57.9 Norah Jones: We can have it stated like that.

0:06:00.5 Noah: Yeah.

0:06:00.6 Norah Jones: Noah, thank you so much for sharing and looking forward to the presentations that you’ll be doing and thanks for your wisdom and insights today.

0:06:07.7 Noah: Thank you.


0:06:12.5 Norah Jones: So, you are here for Heritage Language Day for which language and culture?

0:06:18.5 Speaker 3: Hinduism.

0:06:19.8 Norah Jones: And what did you think of the day?

0:06:21.5 Speaker 3: Oh, it was actually really fun and I like to see all the other cultures and how they celebrated their languages.

0:06:28.8 Norah Jones: And what did you guys do today for your performance?

0:06:32.4 Speaker 3: We sang our national anthem and we also sang Canadian national anthem, but in our language.

0:06:39.3 Norah Jones: How about the school that you go to? Is it… How long have you been going there and what do you get out of it?

0:06:45.8 Speaker 3: I’ve been going there since I was probably a child and I’ve been there till now. I learned a lot about my language and I know how to speak in my language a bit more fluently than I used to.

0:07:00.1 Norah Jones: And what do you think that that will continue to do for you as you grow?

0:07:03.8 Speaker 3: It’s gonna let me learn and I want to learn about my language ’cause it’s my culture, yeah.

0:07:09.8 Norah Jones: What do you think you might do in the future by knowing multiple languages?

0:07:14.5 Speaker 3: I might use it in my advantage, like for jobs maybe.


0:07:21.6 Norah Jones: So now I am with a young man who has been part of the Polish school. Could you introduce yourself please?

0:07:29.6 William: Hello, my name is William. I am Polish School Maria Chrzanowska. We learn about traditions and Polish history and just how Poland used to be on the map and geography and all sorts, which is fun.

0:07:44.8 Norah Jones: How often do you go to a Polish heritage school?

0:07:49.3 William: Every Saturday for 3 hours, 9:00-12:00. It can be a bit of a pain getting up on a Saturday morning, but it’s worth it in the end, so…

0:08:00.4 Norah Jones: So the audience that is listening is figuring out what kind of impact that such heritage language culture schools have on the lives of young people. What can you share with the audience?

0:08:11.3 William: Well, it’s more just understanding where you’ve come from like your roots and just like understanding, like respecting the history and learning about the history. ‘Cause if you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future, I guess, put it that way. So you don’t want a repeat of what’s happened and all sorts, so.

0:08:32.0 Norah Jones: What is your personal background with the Polish language? Did you speak it some before you started your heritage school experience?

0:08:41.0 William: I learned when I was a bit younger, so I’m Polish. Yeah, I had just learned it when I was younger really and kinda kept going and kept doing it, so.

0:08:52.8 Norah Jones: When did you start coming to the school?

0:08:55.5 William: When I was about 8.

0:08:57.6 Norah Jones: And you are now?

0:08:58.9 William: 14.

0:09:01.0 Norah Jones: So the 6 years have provided you some insights. What do you say to those who are thinking about having their children go to a heritage school?

0:09:12.3 William: It’s worth it because if it’s your heritage, it’s good to teach your kids where they’ve come from. And it’s worth just having your kid learn the language and you can speak it at home, do your traditions with foods and all sorts. It’s a good idea.

0:09:27.8 Norah Jones: What kind of difference do you think that this is going to make to you as an adult as you get out and have your full life?

0:09:35.8 William: I guess it’s just opportunities. Like I could go to Poland, speak the language and speak to people and communicate. And I could just go around the world really and speak to new people and it’s worth just travelling, everything.


Norah Jones: It is so powerful, I think, to hear the voices of young people themselves about their experiences with addressing their own heritage through language and culture. It’s so powerful, I think, to hear the joy that they have, the dedication that they have, the excitement that they have, the experience of presenting to others and wanting to be seen for the heritage they have and to experience others’ heritage. So it may seem as if this is almost like a carnival, and it does have that kind of energy and excitement, but we recognize that it also takes place, this celebration of heritage, language and culture, in a backdrop every bit as serious as some of the items that we adults take a look out into the world. The establishment of Mother Language Day began in 1952 with the Bangla people not permitted to speak their language to consider themselves a people. They pushed back, and the establishment of the awareness of the need to celebrate, to hold on to, to claim the legitimacy of one’s own tongue, one’s own culture, was established. We also take a look at the scenario in which even this one Mother Language Day celebration was held in the midst of a world that as always has stresses and strains between cultures.

Norah Jones: There were presentations by heritage language schools in this particular Mother Language Day that represent cultures that are currently at war. So what is it about this day that makes it a microcosm of what we can do as human beings? Well, we can remember that language and culture are identity, and that identity can be retained no matter where we live so that we can, as human beings, add to our cultural understanding, add to our linguistic competence. Human beings are natural language creating creatures. We can add them.

Norah Jones: We also recognize that in this particular celebration, celebrating each other’s cultures, recognizing the richness, variety and insights of the various cultures provides us with a sense of what the possibilities are for living together in the global community that does exist, whether or not we acknowledge it. And then there’s a forbearance, a forbearance among those who politically, militarily may be in conflict, but the presence of a desire for peace, a desire for cooperation, a desire for welcome, a desire for understanding is there. Patience is there. A commitment to the courtesy to allow the individuals in the group to be who they are, mutual courtesy that allows for a celebration of cultures even when politically speaking they may be in conflict. This is a model for all of us. This is why this day is both joyful in itself, colorful in itself and also a pathway forward for all of us to celebrate who we are, the identity that comes to us as individuals and as groups, and above all the identity that comes to us as human beings. We all have language. We can add language. We all have cultures. We can add cultures. We can celebrate and enjoy each other’s foods and try on different clothing and go to different festivals and be patient, like these young people are patient, like they’ve made sure that they have focused on the positive around them. Let’s use that as a model. Norah Jones: For the next episode, we’ll hear some more voices, voices of very young ones who are just getting started, as well as the voices of teens and adults who have been thinking about their heritage, language and cultures for quite a while. All along the way, be they very small or very tall, they’re celebrating what it means to be human through language and culture. I look forward to sharing with you the next time.

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