Expert View

The importance of mother tongue in education

By Minal Anand, CEO and Founder, GURUQ

By Minal Anand, Founder and CEO, GuruQ
We are living in a time of unusual travel, with usurping technological changes and globalization offering more and more people the opportunity to explore and live-in cultures that are not their own. However, it has been found that having a strong mother tongue foundation leads to a much better understanding of the curriculum as well as a more positive attitude towards school, so it’s vital that children maintain their first language when they begin schooling in a different language. While until now, the education system kept stressing the importance of English as a language, the recently released draft of the National Education Policy stresses the importance of education in the mother tongue, especially in the formative years at school. While acknowledging the innate ability of children to pick up multiple languages, the policy draft suggests that, “All states and UTs, if they so desire, may provide education in schools, up to Class V, in mother tongue, local or regional language as the medium of instruction.

The importance of mother tongue is studied because when children develop their mother tongue, they are simultaneously fostering a whole host of other essential skills, such as critical thinking and literacy skills. It is these skills that they take with them into formal education, and research tells us that any skills and concepts gained in the learner’s home language don’t have to be re-taught when they transfer to a second language.

The importance of mother tongue was studied by Professor Jim Cummins from the University of Toronto in Canada. He explored why is it so important that parents speak their own mother tongue to their children.

His research uncovers the link between a child’s development and their mother tongue. He found that children who develop skills in two or even three languages, grow up to have a deeper understanding of how to form sentences and expressions, making the use of language as a whole a lot easier.

Children speaking just one mother tongue language had a fixed mindset on how to communicate what they want or need. He also found that children with only one mother tongue did not know how to use the language in the same depth as children using two or mother tongue languages.

He discusses how children that speak multiple languages have more advanced critical thinking as they have to explore how to phrase and use the language of choice at that moment in time.

Furthermore, Cummins found that children with a strong mother tongue found it easier to pick up a second language and develop their literacy skills.

The concluded that children’s knowledge and skills transfers across languages. However skills learnt in mother tongue could also be transferred into the language learning approach so if a child has to think more about how to deliver the sentence and when to use it, their cultural identity is also easily adapted. Therefore it is a healthy approach to learning for parents to teach second languages at home and also develop the child’s use of language and expression.

For example, if a child has developed the ability to guess the meaning of a word through its context, or to infer meaning by reading between the lines, these skills are easily transferred when they begin studying in a second language. It is much harder, however, to teach these abstract skills directly through a second language.

Research indicates that having a strong mother tongue foundation leads to a much better understanding of the curriculum as well as a more positive attitude towards school, so it’s vital that children maintain their first language when they begin schooling in a different language. Keeping in mind the inclusion of mother tongue in delivering academic content, edtech apps such as GuruQ are providing tutors that have the ability to conduct the classes in different native languages.

As the 1968 National Policy on Education observed, “The energetic development of Indian languages and literature is an essential condition for educational and cultural development. Unless this is done, the creative energies of the people will not be released, standards of education will not improve, knowledge will not spread to the people, and the gulf between the intelligentsia and the masses will remain, if not widen further.”

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