Celebrating linguistic diversity and mother languages

Sharing TWB community member stories from Nigeria 

On International Mother Language Day, we’re celebrating the richness of linguistic diversity around the world, with a special focus on the TWB Community. 

We are proud to spotlight some of our 100,000+ community members. Each person brings their unique experiences and skills to their role as a language volunteer. And we all come together for a common purpose – to embrace the power of language and communication for a more inclusive and informed world. 

CLEAR Global and TWB logos on water bottle hat and bag, International Mother Language Day

Embracing language and technology to change lives 

In parts of the world, as much as 90% of the population still do not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. Increasing numbers of children face migration and displacement, making language inclusion critical for their futures. Too many people face exclusion which is detrimental to their education, health, and livelihood opportunities, because of the language they speak. 

At TWB and CLEAR Global, we’re dedicated to bridging the language divide to create real, impactful change – better access and better communication. Thanks to TWB Community members worldwide, we’re empowering marginalized language speakers to get and share vital information in the languages they speak. These powerful stories show the importance of communication and support in someone’s mother language. 

The power of language to unite us all

Hear from TWB Community members Okafor Nkechi and Chinwendu Peace Anyanwu from Nigeria. Learn about their experiences volunteering with the TWB Community to contribute to humanitarian and development projects that support their language communities. These translators have chosen to embrace the power of language and technology worldwide to bring impactful change – equal access to education, health, and climate change information for all.

About Okafor Nkechi, Igbo interpreter and translator in Nigeria

“I am passionate about bridging linguistic gaps and ensuring effective communication between different language speakers. As a member of the TWB Community, I have contributed to projects aimed at improving language inclusion and accessibility. This work ensures that language is not a barrier to accessing vital information and services, particularly for marginalized communities who speak Igbo.”


What does it feel like to grow up learning a second language? 

“As a child, I learned in both Igbo, my mother language, and English, as a second language. Learning in a second language posed challenges such as understanding complex concepts and expressing myself fluently. However, through dedication and support, I overcame these obstacles. 

Growing up, I was exposed to a tapestry of my mother tongue which resonated deep within my soul. As I navigated through school, my love for languages grew stronger. I practiced speaking and writing in my mother tongue, and from that, I dreamed of a future where I could use my linguistic skills to make a difference in the world.”

Imagine a more equal future – no one left behind because of language

“One day, while traveling in transit to another state, I saw two different people. One was speaking my mother language, Igbo, while the other was speaking English and it was so difficult for the old women to understand. They struggled to communicate with the missionaries who spoke only in English. Seeing the frustration and confusion on both sides, I felt a fire ignite within me. At that moment, I knew that I had found my calling to be a bridge between those worlds, to ensure that no one was left behind simply because of a language barrier. 

From that day on, I dedicated myself to mastering the art of interpretation. Being an interpreter was more than just a job, it was a passion, a way of honoring my roots and preserving my heritage. I hoped to inspire others to embrace the beauty of their mother tongue and recognize the power of language to unite us all.” 

“My workspace” – Okafor

Hope for inclusive education:

“Inclusive education requires addressing language barriers by providing resources and support for students learning in their mother tongue or a second language. This can include bilingual education programs, culturally relevant teaching materials, and language support services. 

We can make education more inclusive by providing relevant, multilingual education resources, programs, and support for students and teachers. Where possible, we should make education as accessible as possible, whatever someone’s language or communication needs. By training educators on inclusive teaching strategies and celebrating cultural diversity, we can both embrace and respect learners’ identities and needs.”

Mother language access – why is it important to your community? 

“Access to essential services such as health, climate change information, and education in Igbo is crucial for effective communication and understanding within the community. It empowers individuals to make informed decisions and promotes cultural preservation.

Accessing important communications in my mother language, Igbo, is vital for several reasons: 

  • Health services: Understanding medical information, and treatment instructions, and communicating with healthcare providers in Igbo ensures clarity and accuracy in healthcare decisions. It helps to promote patient safety and improves health outcomes by reducing misunderstandings or misinterpretations due to language barriers. 
  • Climate change information: Climate change affects communities globally, including those who speak Igbo. Accessing information on climate change,  its impacts, and mitigation strategies in Igbo allows for greater understanding and engagement within the community. It empowers individuals to take appropriate actions to address environmental challenges and adapt to changing conditions. 
  • Education: Learning in one’s mother language enhances comprehension and retention of knowledge. Access to education in Igbo facilitates a deeper understanding of academic concepts, promotes cultural identity and pride, and strengthens language proficiency. It ensures that all members of the community have equitable access to quality education, regardless of their linguistic background. 

By providing these essential communications in Igbo, we promote inclusivity, empower individuals, and strengthen community resilience. Access to important communications in their language helps reaffirm Igbo speakers’ cultural identity. It acknowledges the value of respecting linguistic diversity in an increasingly interconnected world. Making crucial conversations accessible in Igbo empowers individuals to actively participate in society and engage with essential services and information. It promotes inclusivity,  ensuring that all community members, regardless of their language, age or background, have more equal access to resources and opportunities.”

– Responses by Okafor Nkechi, TWB Community member. 

About Chinwendu Peace Anyanwu, Igbo speaker in Nigeria. 

“I am a native speaker of the Igbo language. I am a linguist. I studied Linguistics and Igbo language at the University of Benin Edo State, Nigeria. I am passionate about language studies and this persuaded me to join several language volunteer programs to help promote, preserve, document, and revitalize languages on the verge of endangerment. I am a translator and an editor.”


Not allowed to speak your mother language 

The challenges of learning in a second language 

“I got my primary education in my language community [Igbo], it was easier for me to adapt as my parents were competent native speakers and I was able to acquire my first language from this setting. I learned my second language (English) in school but my first language wasn’t neglected. Acquiring Igbo as a first language was an effort made by my parents because, in schools, we were restricted from speaking vernacular, as was called by the teachers then. Sometimes, we were told to speak English and that anyone who speaks the Igbo language will have their name on the blacklist by the class prefect. So it wasn’t easier then for children who were not opportune to have their mother tongue as their first language and this gave rise to them seeing their indigenous or mother tongue as a thing of ridicule. The experience was not fair at all and they also replayed some parts of it in the secondary class, where you must debate and present in a foreign language. If you speak your mother tongue you are seen as unintelligible or you are called ‘igbotic’ or ‘local.’ 

Why study Igbo? – embracing your mother language

This didn’t stop, even in university, though my university education was not in my language. We were always stereotyped as one with a particular mother tongue/accent and this can even push some set of individuals to avoid speaking in public. This scenario led us to learn Benin pidgin English to the extent that it became hard for us to communicate with our mother tongue even among siblings. The thing about all these is when you adapt to different settings you find yourself seeing your language as one made for local champions. This has affected the Igbo language severely as it barely has young competent native speakers and writers. Even when you tell somone your course is Igbo language, the question will be “Why study Igbo? Of all the courses.” It has not been a fair experience, and not involving our mother tongue as the language of education affected our language and deprived us of having everything accessible in our own language.”


What information is most important for you to be able to access in your mother language?

“The most accessible communications are education, but through different language revitalization platforms like TWB and Wikimedia, we are striving to have more communications in my mother language, especially on climate change and health. 

This is very important as having all words in all languages breaks the knowledge gap barrier and can actually save lives. Having the sum of all human knowledge in every language is a great thing as communication and solution to problems would be easier.” 

– Responses by Chinwendu Peace Anyanwu, TWB Community member. 

A huge thank you to our contributors for International Mother Language Day, whose stories remind us to embrace diversity, break barriers, and promote linguistic equality. 

Will you join us? About TWB

The Translators without Borders (TWB) Community is at the heart of CLEAR Global, a nonprofit helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. By joining the TWB Community, you’ll join over 100,000 people volunteering remotely from around the world to make meaningful change through language.

You’ll get a chance to provide language support to local and global organizations, helping bridge communication gaps between them and people living through a crisis – and beyond. You’ll contribute significantly to making information accessible, inclusive, and useful to people who need that information in their language.

You, too, can join the movement for a world where every voice is heard, and every language matters. Here’s how you can get involved: 

Read more on the TWB blog – discover more community member stories told by them. 

Why volunteer as a humanitarian translator?

The best gift to humanity is inclusion

International Mother Language Day is a moment to celebrate humanitarian translation and promote inclusive conversations for everyone. When we create innovative technology, information, and resources in people’s mother languages, we unlock the potential for everyone to get and share vital knowledge. 

Photo: Pexels

We believe that no language should be left behind in the global effort for equitable, sustainable progress. CLEAR Global and Translators without Borders (TWB) offer a space for anyone, anywhere to share their language skills, support humanitarian translation and development efforts globally, and connect with like-minded volunteers. 

With the TWB Learning Center, our community members can gain experience in humanitarian translation and learn in-demand language industry skills. Frequently updated with new, self-paced online translation courses, it’s a great way for newcomers and language professionals alike to develop their skills and create a positive social impact. It’s how Olena first found the opportunity to use her language skills to help people. The TWB Community brings together over 100,000 language volunteers remotely, helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. Our community members help our nonprofit partners worldwide provide lifesaving multilingual messages, ensuring everyone can understand. We encourage everyone to join the TWB Community – to connect, grow, learn, and make an impact.

Now, meet Olena, a community member from Ukraine, living in Italy, who discovered TWB in 2020. Her story shows the power of e-learning to grow humanitarian translation skills and support people with critical health, migration, and welfare information, especially when a crisis hits your homeland.

Olena’s story – discovering humanitarian translation 

When I was discovering the vast world of translation, some three years ago, something whispered inside me: “Here you are, you have your stable job in a company. You have your dream to be a freelancer and to work with languages… and you have this tremendous bundle of doubts wrapping all around you. You have started studying the opportunities, but you will never start to break these ‘strands of doubt’ until you start acting!” 

“Do something CONCRETE!” That was the message that overwhelmed me for many days, while I kept dealing with customer support and translating the manuals for the latest technological machines producing precast CONCRETE. A curious play of words. Vital.

The doubt kept growing – how could I do it? I already translate a lot at my job. I knew that translations needed time, and could not guarantee any deadlines working full-time as an employee. One of the online courses on the TWB Learning Center opened a new world to me – volunteer humanitarian translation

Photo: Jason Goodman, Unsplash

Taking action – joining the TWB Community

And so, I started doing something concrete. I joined the Translators without Borders community, attended their introduction courses, and simply started translating. I had time and could meet deadlines because I could look at the active projects (which are usually not very massive and allow a certain flexibility). I could choose the ones that fit my schedule, and work on them online. 

My initial expectations, i.e., to enter the translators’ community and gain experience, were met and exceeded. I received useful training in humanitarian translations and enhanced my technological skills working on the online CAT (computer-assisted translation) platform provided for these tasks. By the end of the first year, I was quite confident about my skills as a translator and reviser, my translation speed, and eventual specialisms. I received my first notes of recognition from fellow translators and project managers, followed by a global TWB recognition program. And last but not least, I felt my job was important at some global humanitarian level. A wonderful, refreshing sense of contributing to a greater cause.

Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino, Unsplash

Translating for health, migrants, and Ukraine 

I happened to start translating during 2020, submerged in an unexpected pandemic. There was a lot of content on safety and healthcare leaflets and procedures, local regulations, and informative brochures, with the vast majority of materials for migrants and refugees. Then, the war started in my native land of Ukraine. 

I have come to understand one vital problem faced by people suffering from disasters worldwide – language barriers. That very barrier results in an impossibility of asking or getting information, unawareness of the risks and unpreparedness to handle various events, an oppressive feeling of being excluded, ignored, abandoned, losing control of the situation, and depending on someone or something vague. Information and confidence mean a lot to people. It can be a matter of getting relief, signaling new dangers, and even saving lives.

Lviv, Ukraine – March 2, 2022. Evacuees from eastern Ukraine in bus station of Lviv waiting for the bus to Poland. — Source: DepositPhotos

Giving a lot, gaining a lot

I have been giving a lot, and gaining a lot. 

In 2023, I managed to break the ultimate “strands of doubt” keeping me away from my dream. I needed time, and my time has come. After 18 years working for private companies, investing my skills into the fields that were not quite inspiring for my inner self, I decided to accomplish my inspirations, and so I am at the start of a new journey now. And in the meantime, I continue my volunteer activity as well. It didn’t even come to mind to give it up. It has become part of my life now.

Some may think of me as an idealist, but I like to think that my small contribution can make the world better. And I say a special thanks to TWB for the experience that I was able to gain with them – they have been encouraging, transparent, and supportive. This experience is invaluable.

Written by Olena Dmytriieva, TWB Community member

Get involved – discover the TWB Learning Center for yourself

New courses are available now, plus much more on the TWB Learning Center

Discover Desktop Publishing (DTP)

Explore Desktop Publishing (DTP) in our latest self-paced course. DTP is usually the last step in the localization process when translated documents are redesigned for print. Perfect for beginners and those looking to learn DTP theory and get hands-on practice. Check out the course and start learning today. 

Look after your well-being as a language professional: Vicarious Trauma Training

We care about our community’s well-being and aim to support them as volunteer humanitarian translators. That’s why we’re offering a free 90-minute training for TWB Community members, in collaboration with Masterword. CEO and expert Ludmila Golovine explains the impacts of vicarious trauma and strategies you can implement to prioritize your mental health. Exclusive to TWB Community members – check your email inbox for your code to watch on-demand for free

Boost your job hunt: How recruitment works – a guide for job applicants 

Navigate the job market with our new online course – designed to help you understand recruitment processes. It’s self-paced and full of interactive content. Understanding the various aspects of recruitment and human resources can make your job search more effective. Explore the course here and get ready for job market success!

Get started on the TWB Learning Center today

Olena’s story: References and additional reading on humanitarian translation

Crisis Response – Words of Relief – by Translators without Borders

Language as a key for effective Ukraine crisis response – by Milana Vračar, 2022 – CLEAR Global

The Humanitarian Face of Translation – by Lori Thicke, 2002 – MultiLingual Magazine

Language and communication in crisis – by Ingrid Piller, 2021 – Language on the Move Research Blog

The translator is a traitor: translation in humanitarian response – by Rasha Mahmoud Abdel Fattah, 2022 – International Committee of the Red Cross Blog

Further sources for volunteer translators:

20 Best Websites For Volunteer Translators – by Nuno, 2022 (updated) – Translation & Interpreting

Marginalized mother languages – two ways to improve the lives of the people who speak them

21 February. This is the date chosen by UNESCO for International Mother Language Day, which has been observed worldwide since 2000. This year deserves special attention as 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Both initiatives promote linguistic diversity and equal access to multilingual information and knowledge.

Languages can be a huge resource. At the same time, the mother language that people speak can be a barrier to accessing opportunities. People who speak marginalized mother languages often belong to remote or less prosperous communities and, as a result, they are more vulnerable when a crisis hits.

Yet, the humanitarian and development sector has been largely blind to the importance of language. International languages such as English, French, Arabic, and Spanish dominate, excluding the people who most need their voices heard. Marginalized language speakers are denied opportunities to communicate their needs and priorities, report abuse, or get the information they need to make decisions.

If aid organizations are to meet their high-level commitments to put people at the center of humanitarian action and leave no one behind, this needs to change. To understand better how to address language barriers facing marginalized communities, two actions can lead our sector in the right direction.

Aerial view of Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo by Eric DeLuca, Translators without Borders.

Putting languages on the map

The first is language mapping. No comprehensive and readily accessible dataset exists on which language people speak where.

TWB has started to fill that gap by creating maps from existing data and from our own research. Our interactive map shows the language and communication needs of internally displaced people in northeast Nigeria. The map uses data collected by the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix team. This data shows, for instance, that access to information is a serious problem at over half of sites where Marghi is the dominant language. Aid organizations can use this map to develop the right communication strategy for reaching people in need.

Humanitarian and development organizations can add some simple standard questions to their household surveys and other assessments to gather valuable language data. Aid workers will then understand the communication needs and preferences of the 176 million people in need of humanitarian assistance globally.

But communication in a crisis situation – or in any situation – should not be one-way. That’s where the second action comes in.

Building machine translation capacity in marginalized languages

Language technology has dramatically shifted two-way communication between people who speak different languages. In order to truly help people in need, listen to and understand them, we need to apply technology to their languages as well.

TWB is leading the Gamayun Language Equality Initiative to make it happen. We have built a closed-environment, domain-specific Levantine Arabic machine engine for the UN World Food Programme. This initiative will improve accountability to Syrian refugees facing food insecurity. Initial testing indicates that Gamayun will provide an efficient method for accessing local information sources. It will enable aid organizations to better understand the needs of their target populations, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

TWB Fulfulde Team Lead conducting comprehension research. Waterboard camp in Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo by Eric DeLuca, Translators without Borders.

We need to continue building the parallel language datasets from humanitarian and development content that make machine translation a viable option. That will expand the evidence that machine translation can enable better communication, including by empowering affected people to hold aid organizations to account in their own language.

Taking action

These two actions can help the humanitarian and development sector improve lives by promoting two-way communication with speakers of marginalized languages.  These actions will need to be expanded to be truly effective, but International Mother Language Day in the Year of Indigenous Languages is a great time to start.

To read:

    • The IFRC 2018 World Disasters Report, which includes clear and compelling recommendations about the importance of language to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people are not “left behind”
  • TWB’s white paper on the Gamayun Language Equality Initiative

To do:

    • Consult our dashboard and think about how you can start collecting this data to inform your programs
    • Follow our journey as we continue to move forward with Gamayun (and learn along the way!)
  • Email us if you have an idea to share or want to do more in this area: [email protected]
Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders.