International Mother Language Day is held annually on February 21 to promote awareness and, highlight the importance, of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. It is a day set aside to recognise and provoke productive thoughts on the need for preservation, protection, and development of all existing languages in the world as each language offers a unique perspective on how to view the world.
This year’s theme is “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”.
Promoting mother tongue is very important as it fosters linguistic richness and diversity; facilitates multilingualism and encourages cultural, religious and economic tolerance.
Coming from an alternative prism, celebrating Mother Language is significant particularly in the developing countries where mother language is alarmingly going into extinction as the fashionable trend now is abandoning the mother tongues and introducing young children to such languages as English and French with the belief that it is only through these languages that the children can unlock professional, economic, and universal opportunities.
Sadly, forcing kids to abandon their mother tongue doesn’t only affect their early educational development and rob them of the knowledge of their cultural heritage, it also robs them of the unique opportunity of being multilingual right from their infancy—which comes with little or no effort.
As we celebrate the Mother Language today, let us look at some benefits of having a proper knowledge of one’s Mother Tongue:
Mother Tongue, researches have shown, is the best language through which basic skills of reading, writing, and numeracy can be acquired. Global Campaign for Education asserts that using mother tongue at early level of education “can prepare children for school and foster foundational skills, such as literacy and critical thinking.”
Kosonen, k (2005) also affirms that using mother tongue to teach children at early level of education guarantees continuity in their educational growth and development.
Angelina Kioko, professor of English and Linguistics at United States International University, Nairobi, Kenya further states that the use of foreign languages as the first language of instruction for children poses the risks of making learning teacher-centered, boring, and ineffective.
Language is more than a set of codes woven together solely for the purpose of communication alone. Language is a repertoire of the cultural heritage of the people. Thus, a child that is sound in its mother tongue will have a proper understanding of its cultural heritage. Abandoning mother tongues can lead to a total loss of cultural heritage.
Encouraging mother tongue, particularly in countries where the official language is not the mother tongue, ensures that an average educated citizen is, at least, bilingual. Bilingualism/Multilingualism adds richness and alternatives to how we perceive the world. According to Anne Merritt, “physiological studies have found that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process. The brains of bilingual people operate differently than single language speakers, and these differences offer several mental benefits.”