UN International Literacy Day

UN International Literacy Day

Knowing how to read and write is a very important factor in most people’s lives. But some people never learn these skills. How can we make sure that everybody gets the opportunity to become literate?

Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercises.


Have you ever travelled to a country with a language that you don’t speak? If so, perhaps you had trouble understanding the most basic things: signs, instructions, documents, packaging. Maybe you felt quite powerless. This is just a simple example that gives us a small idea of how hard life must be for a person who is unable to read. Illiteracy is a major problem around the world. To acknowledge the huge efforts of people working in this field, the United Nations celebrates International Literacy Day every 8 September.

What is UN International Literacy Day?

Since 1967, this annual celebration has brought attention to people in the world who don’t know how to read or write. It highlights ways to combat this problem and the huge progress that has been made. Every 8 September, UNESCO holds an awards ceremony in Paris in which prizes are given to individuals and organisations who work hard to increase literacy around the world.

How big is the problem?

It is estimated that around 14 per cent of the global population is illiterate. Within that statistic, there is some good news and some bad news. On a positive note, the levels of illiteracy have fallen a lot in recent decades (in just 1980, world illiteracy was at 43 per cent!). However, there are still enormous differences between regions. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, illiteracy remains around 30 per cent.

What are the consequences of illiteracy?

There is a strong connection between illiteracy and poverty. People who can read and write have an enormous advantage over those who can’t when it comes to studying and training. This means that literate people generally earn more money and even enjoy better health. The UN also reports more negative attitudes towards women in societies with lower literacy levels.

What is the situation for women and girls?

A study by the UN showed that almost 83 per cent of women and girls are able to read and write. However, two-thirds of all illiterate people in the world are female. This problem is due to factors such as insufficient educational opportunities for girls or the tradition in some countries for girls to get married at a young age. Many organisations work to try to empower women and girls by teaching them literacy skills.

What is the situation for men and boys?

The same UN study showed that, internationally, 90 per cent of men and boys are able to read and write. However, in many Western countries, girls generally show better literacy than boys. Experts suggest that this is due to education techniques which don’t always suit boys, as well as the opinion among some boys that reading and writing are ‘girly’ things to do.      

How is technology changing things?

In the digital era, learning to read and write has become more accessible, with the internet and the popularity of devices like computers and smartphones. UNESCO suggests that literacy has become more important than ever as the world changes towards ‘knowledge-based societies’ which depend on communication rather than creating physical products.

What is the future of literacy?

Some experts argue that we need to change our idea of literacy. These days, knowing how to read is a limited skill if the same person doesn’t know how to use a computer or smartphone. Some suggest that we need to expand the idea of literacy to include skills such as knowing how to use a web browser, create a document on a computer or even send a text message by phone.

How can I participate?

Many libraries and universities organise events to celebrate International Literacy Day, often inviting famous writers to participate. Check out #LiteracyDay on social media to see what’s happening in your region.

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Submitted by Pandavarajashekar on Tue, 31/10/2023 - 04:42


the best way to come out of all your problems is education that includes your family issues. Education should be first priority for every person. Living in this world by being Illiterate is very hard .education makes you good in knowledge and gives strength to work mentally .

Submitted by jyoti Chaudhary on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 13:08


What is the best way to learn to read and write in a different language?

the best way for learning any language is just to explore the people who speak the same language which you want to learn. you can explore and watch movies, and listen to songs, or podcasts in the same;language. most important read and write something that you are doing. i still learning the English language when I was started learning the language. i explore people who generally speak the English language and I saw many English cartoons and series. i did a lot of things for improving my language. still, I have dramatic mistakes but I shall do it.

Submitted by sithutun on Tue, 07/12/2021 - 15:41


Learning a new language is a long process and it takes time. You must in touch with that language as possible as you can like watching movie, listening to songs, daily conversations. The best way to learn a new language is to practice it as practice makes perfect.

Submitted by Thinthinmyoe on Tue, 26/01/2021 - 08:16

The best way to learn to read and write is to always touch and practise steadily and slowly.
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Submitted by danisep on Wed, 23/12/2020 - 16:33

What I'm doing to learn to read and write in English is, first of all extend my vocabulary trying to add new words and expressions to my head every day, also obviously read every day and listen to podcasts or audios, take advantage to write comments or essays with the words that you have learned in that day. I think that the best way is to start using the language instead of watching a movie in your mother language, watching it in english although it takes me more time. If you can find a good teacher it would be great because he is going to tell you what is suitable to hold a conversation and understand basic English by other hand you should study harder.

Submitted by cittàutopica on Mon, 07/12/2020 - 14:20

I agree with Анна Конжезёрова. Obviously I think the best way to learn a foreign language is living in the country where people speaks the same language, but that doesn't be enough, because the studies are necessary in that case also. After all information technology makes many instruments available for strenghting our learning abilities.

Submitted by Lilly098 on Thu, 05/11/2020 - 18:22

In my experience, the best way to learn to read and write in a different language is to do shadowing subtitle of a your favourite sitcom. When I could barely understand the grammar or vocabulary, shadowing what every characters were speaking had improved my English literacy a lot.

Submitted by Анна Конжезёрова on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 18:11

I think, the best way to learn to read and write in a different lenguage is to use all posibilities. Firstly, you have to want to learn. Besides, you can start with the different applications which are created for learning lenguages by yourself. Futhermore, you can supplement your learning with listening music, watching films and serials, readind books. On the other hand, you learning can be more effective if you study with a teacher o native speaker. En general, all posibilities can be used for learning lenguage. You just have to choose something that you like. In addition, is recomended to combine some types of learning to get the result fuster than you can imagine.

Hello Anna,

That is great advice -- thanks very much for sharing it. 

Could you please put your username in the Roman alphabet? In this way, more of our users will be able to read it.

Thanks in advance.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ayelén on Sun, 13/09/2020 - 13:52

The best way to learn and write in a different language start with motivation. Learn the alphabet in that language, and start with simple words that we can use every day and find easy to pronounce at the beginning. For example, in English words like 'cat', 'dog', 'glass', numbers and colors. And continuing practicing every day.