It’s the most common misconception that the elite people of the world will only think and talk in 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 use their mother tongue regularly. 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. And that’s the time when people have started undermining the importance of the mother tongue and its benefits.
Wondering, why I am talking about the importance of the mother tongue when the entire world is moving towards English. Yes, it’s a known fact that English is a widely spoken language. This post is not to undermine the importance of English or anything of that sort. This post aims at bringing forth the benefits of teaching the mother tongue and its importance in the child’s life on the eve of the #International Mother language day that was celebrated on 21st February.
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What is Mother tongue?:
As per the definition, the 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 themselves 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 easily, without much effort from their end. If that’s the case, our children shouldn’t have any issues with language. And in fact, some other studies also proved that teaching children multiple languages aid in their brain development as well.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head,
If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his headNelson Mandela
Mother tongue and its importance:
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 not only confuse them but will have long-term side effects as well.
“If one’s Mother tongue is forgotten, then one’s values and culture 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. And that’s why most experts recommend teaching in the mother tongue till the time the kid reaches elementary schooling years. Luckily our new NEP policy is also recommending the same.
By teaching the mother tongue during the early years of the child, the child will have:
- Strong connection to our roots. It will help them stay grounded and give them a chance to stay connected with our native place and people.
- Would be able to communicate freely with the elders and extended family members. That would help him understand his family better and make him more connected with his family.
- Will be able to understand his own identity and also start appreciating other people and the diversity that comes with them.
- Will have great 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.
Tips to make the mother tongue work for your child.
The following are some tips that I used at my home, when my child was younger, sharing them here once again.
- 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.
- In case both parents speak two different languages, then the child could be exposed to both these languages at the same time.
- Once 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 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.
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We are from South India and Telugu is our mother tongue. But we reside in Chennai, where people speak only Tamil. In the early years, when the child was not stepping out of the house, we spoke to him only in Telugu. Once when the child turned over the first year and started going to parks, he started observing people talking in a different language. That’s when we started introducing Tamil words to him. By the time he reached grade 1, he became proficient in speaking in both Telugu and Tamil. He also learned to speak fluently in English, as we used to watch English movies and youtube videos.
We started introduced him to Hindi also in a similar way last year and now he is able to speak fluently in all these languages. Now we started giving him the reading and writing practice regularly across all these languages.