How can learning the mother tongue help in child development?

For about 16 or 17 years of our lives, we are in pursuit for academic excellence. Unlike in the past, most of us have grown up speaking and studying in English. Parents no more seem to be as interested as their folks were when it comes to ensuring that the children learn their mother tongue. Some believe their children will learn it in due course.
According to linguists, thousands of languages will disappear within the next hundred years. Over the past few decades, English has increasingly come to dominate in research and higher education, especially in the natural sciences, medicine and technology. Therefore, it is a must for us to keep Creole as alive as it is now, even though some might think it is useless to know the language.

What is the mother tongue?
The term ‘mother tongue’ harks back to the notion that linguistic skills of a child are honed by the mother and, therefore, the language spoken by the mother would be the primary language that the child would learn.
The mother tongue, native or first language, is what a person has learned from birth or within a critical period, where the ability to acquire a language is biologically linked to age, and thus becomes the basis for social identity.

Creole As a Language
Others perceive some languages as superior over others, but nothing should be as superior as our mother tongue. Creole as a language, culture, identity and a means of expression is going through an important stage of its evolution. Historically, it is the result of two cultures and the evolutionary process of using the vocabulary of one and the grammar and syntax of the other. With colonization and slavery and from the contact between the European masters and the slaves, a new set of languages emerged, namely the creoles of today’s world. The majority of words in Creole are of French origin, although more than 200 are derived from English, 50 from Indian languages and several from Chinese and Arabic. The history of the island plays an important role in explaining this unbelievable mixture.

Why is your Mother Tongue important?
The English and French languages are colonizing the world. Political, cultural and technical influences from abroad are not necessarily negative, on the contrary, they can often prove to be enriching. But because of an accelerating influence, the English language has come to be a threat towards the Creole languages and the culture too. With the way English and French are propagating their habits, the actual culture is being altered and is breeding a new generation that will be very different from the current one.
The mother tongue is part of a child’s personal, social and cultural identity. It is this identification we get from speaking our mother tongue that enforces successful social patterns of acting and speaking. Our diverse social backgrounds make us unique and appealing in society.

The mother tongue is an indispensable instrument for the development of intellectual, physical and moral aspects of education. Habits, conducts, values, virtues, customs and beliefs are all shaped through the mother tongue. Needless to say, weakness in the mother tongue means a paralysis of all thought and power of expression.

Mother tongue and a child’s education
UNESCO (2007) points out the overlooked advantages of multilingual education in the early years. When children are offered opportunities to learn in their mother tongue, they are more likely to enroll and succeed in school and their parents are more likely to communicate with teachers and participate in their children’s learning.
Mother tongue-based education especially benefits disadvantaged groups, including children from rural communities and girls, who tend to have less exposure to an official language like French. They tend to stay in school longer, achieve better and repeat grades less often when they are taught in their mother tongue. Most children speak a home language that differs from the language of instruction in education programmes.

Does mother tongue influence on second language?
Studies show that six to eight years of education in a language are necessary to develop the level of literacy and verbal proficiency required for academic achievement in secondary school. To retain their mother tongue, children whose first language is not the medium of instruction must have:

1. Continued interaction with their family and community in their first language on increasingly complex topics that go beyond household matters;
2. An ongoing formal instruction in their first language to develop reading and writing skills;
3. Exposure to positive parental attitudes to maintaining the mother tongue, both as a marker of cultural identity and for certain instrumental purposes (eg, success in the local economy or global trade).

In addition, research increasingly shows that children’s ability to learn a second or additional local language and an international language such as English, French, or German, does not suffer when their mother tongue is the primary language of instruction throughout primary school.
Fluency and literacy in the mother tongue lay a cognitive and linguistic foundation for learning additional languages. When children receive formal instruction in their first language throughout primary school and then gradually transition to academic learning in the second language, they learn the second language quickly. If they continue to have opportunities to develop their first language skills in secondary school, they emerge as fully bilingual (or multilingual) learners.
If, however, children are forced to switch abruptly or transition too soon from learning in their mother tongue to schooling in a second language, their first language acquisition may be weakened or even lost. Even more importantly, their self-confidence as learners and their interest in what they are learning may decline, leading to lack of motivation, school failure and early school drop-out.
In spite of the fact that the world is a global village, we ought to harness our virtuous customs and beliefs; they define us and establish our rightful belonging. As much as it is important to teach our children international languages, they ought to learn and appreciate their local languages too.


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