It’s the most common misconception that the elite people of the world will only think and talk English and they don’t have any other second language. But if you dig deeper, research always proves the fact that the most successful people in the world are the ones who have excelled in their mother tongue and still has solid connections with their mother tongue. But then, where did this misconception about “People treating us cultured only if we speak in English” cropped up in our minds? It’s to do with the colonial rule that our forefathers have seen and the people who were successful at that point in time were the ones who spoke English. But, what our forefathers forgot conveniently at that point in time was that all those who were successful had their school education only in their mother tongue.
Wondering, why I am talking about the expertise in the mother tongue when the entire world is moving towards English. Yes, it’s a known fact that English is the widely spoken language. This post is not to undermine the importance of English or anything of that sort. This post aims at the importance of mother tongue in the success of any child on the eve of the #International Mother language day that was celebrated on 21st February 2021.
What is Mother tongue?:
As per the definition, mother tongue is the first language the baby hears for the first time in his life. It’s the language his parents/grandparents speak at home and it’s the same language which he is used to listening to while growing up. And that’s the reason why it’s been considered as the primary language or first language during the school years a few years back.
Now, most of the parents are admitting their children during the pre-primary/primary levels itself in English medium schools. And the schools are also imposing strict rules indicating that the children have to speak only English. Some schools are also resorting to tougher punishment measures on these younger children for speaking in their mother tongue. We would have read so many stories about these kinds of incidents in newspapers.
Child Psychologists and Educationists say that children below 6 years are capable of learning approximately four to five languages very seamlessly, without much effort from their end. If that’s the case, our children shouldn’t have any issues with language. But in the current generation, most of the kids are not experts even in any one language, leave alone multiple languages. So is there a problem somewhere? If yes, have we really taken the time to address it as the parents, so that the kids can be proficient in multiple languages?
“If one’s Mother tongue is forgotten, then one’s value will also be forgotten”Pramukh Swami Maharaj
If one digs a little deeper into the reasons why the people are using a mix of languages and are not fluent even in one of them, we have to admit that these kids don’t have a solid foundation in a single language. Any language expert would mention that having a strong foundation in one language helps them learn other languages easily.
But most of the parents are rushing their kids to practice talking in English right from the toddler days. Actually, this is the time when the child is trying to form the correlation between words and their sounds. They will be able to pick up words that we talk about at home very easily and they would learn the grammar rules without no one teaching them, just by hearing the family members talk. So at this stage, if parents confuse them with another language, by talking to the kid purposefully in that language, it will confuse them.
Tips to make the mother tongue work for your child.
- In the early days, expose the child only to the language/(s) you speak at home and make it look seamless, without any stress on words or vocabulary.
- Once when the child reaches a level of making sentences, introduce the child to the words from other languages based on the need. At this stage, show him the connections between your mother tongue and the new language you are introducing.
- At this stage, we need to make use of the stories or rhymes to teach the similarities and connections, which are the building blocks. The same story or the words can be repeated in multiple languages so that they can understand them easily and are able to memorize them.
- These connections are the building blocks in language learning for the children. Once they are able to get a grasp on these building blocks their speaking proficiency across the different languages would increase drastically.
- Then is the time, to show the similarities across the alphabets between these languages and also explain the similarities in the grammatical rules across languages. This is the time to expose them to the books across different languages too. This is the second set of building blocks in language learning for the children. This would improve their writing levels in language learning.
Now, that we understand how learning the mother tongue really helps in building the foundation for other languages in children, let us see how else this would help.
- Learning our mother tongue would make our children connected to our roots. It will help them stay grounded and give them a chance to stay connected with our native place and people.
- It will help in creating a different identity for their own. They don’t have to search for the lost identity or roots at a later date in the future.
- It will also install pride in their own heritage and culture, as it broadens their horizons. They would be in a position to make better choices at any given point in time.
This is the method I followed with my child and now he is proficient in three languages (Telugu, Tamil, and English). We are introducing him to Hindi also in a similar way. He is still making the connections across the words among all these four languages using Hindi as the base language. Based on my past experience, I am so sure that he would pick up Hindi also within a couple of months.
All pictures are sourced from the UNESCO website.