The International Mother Language Day (IMLD) was observed all over the world on February 21. This year, the theme of the day was “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes.”
The mother tongue is the language which the child learns first. It is the language in which the child develops basic understanding before entering school. A child’s informal education is, thus, based on this language. In our country, however, the importance of the mother tongue has been neglected and people have negative perceptions about its use in the educational process. Educational institutions discourage the use of children’s native tongues in school and encourage the use of the language that is the medium of teaching — which in most cases is English. Parents also focus mainly on children’s English language skills and discourage the use of the mother tongue.
Children find it difficult to understand concepts at earlier stages of their education when they are taught solely in the academic language. The need, therefore, is to understand the significance of the child’s mother language in the process of education. A child’s cognitive development depends on language. The first comprehension of the world, learning of basic skills and concepts, and the perception of existence starts with the child’s first language, his mother tongue. A child’s first feelings, emotions, fears, happiness and love are expressed in his mother language. Thus, this language plays an important role in shaping thoughts, emotions, cognitions and so on. It is in this language that the imprint of our childhood — the most important stage of life — is formed.
It is important to teach the basic concepts in the mother tongue and to begin the educational process in the child’s own native language as compared to a foreign language, because using a foreign language can confuse the child; he may not be able to grasp knowledge properly if he cannot understand the words in which the knowledge is communicated.
However, if a new language is introduced immediately, then the child finds it difficult to transfer his understanding of the concepts from the parent language to the academic language and more efforts would be needed to first learn the new language.
It is, therefore, recommended that the mother tongue should be the medium of instruction till grade five, because these are the most important years during which careful steps need to be taken for the sake of the child’s development.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2016.