Learning in mother tongue- Is it viable?

Children taught in mother tongue

Children will learn and grow effectively when taught in their mother tongue

In a special talk on Ted.com, an advocate for Arabic language, Suzanne Talhouk, spoke about the grave need for people across the world to preserve their mother tongues. She says that for one to master any other language one must be a master of her or his own mother tongue first. Because that is from where most expressions come.

This piqued my interest. We have more than 92 different mother tongues in Nepal. The country’s richness in ethnicity and languages poses its own problems.

Let’s first look at some of the perks of learning in one’s mother tongue.

What are the perks of learning in one’s own language?

While English is a universal language and people consider speaking English as something modern, teaching in one’s own language not only facilitates learning and cognitive behavior of children but also enhances their self-esteem, emotional security and ability to participate meaningfully in the education process.

1. Language as savior of one’s nation

Suzanne Talbout also talks about the importance of mother language as savior of a nation. The more people speak their own language, the more they protect their own nation. Which other country than France and Germany better knew about this fact!

2. Teaching in one’s own language is cheaper

Teachers specially trained in the language of instruction (English in this case) or native speakers are required to teach. It is therefore wise to make use of the local human capital to teach children in their mother tongue.

Learning is fun

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. –Benjamin Franklin

Will children be able to compete internationally when they grow up if taught in their own language?

If we go by the example of one of the greatest poets of the Nepali literature Laxmi Prasad Devkota, the premise that with the mastery of one’s mother tongue one will be able to be an expert in a foreign language seems to hold true. Devkota has penned works of art such as the epic love story Muna-Madan (which is also considered his magnum opus and the most commercially successful Nepali book ever published) and several other eternal creations. Because he was a master of the Nepali language Devkota was able to create noted works such as the translation of Prometheus which is renowned worldwide.

We have other innumerable examples such as the Lebanese artist, poet and writer Gibran Khalil Gibran who first wrote in his own mother tongue before embarking on the journey of writing poems and other works of art in English. Kahlil Gibran acquired enough “baggage” in his own language to write so fluently in a foreign language later on.

Learning in mother tongue is a universal right

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Articles 17, 19 and 30, for example, state, “State parties shall encourage the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous”; “a child belonging to a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right to profess and practice his/her own religion or to use his/her own language”. Similarly, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Article 14 clearly declares that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages” and that “States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, to have access to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language”.

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It is an undeniable fact that children will be much at ease to learn in their own language and make connections easily. For children taught in language other than their own, learning can be a burdensome task. This might also have a bearing on their psychology so much so that learning can never be fun.

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