Col B S Nagial (Retd)
The meaning of mother tongue can often be referred to as your first language or native language. It is the language that you most commonly speak. However, mother tongue meaning refers to the child’s language from birth for important and impacting times in the child’s life.
“Abhimanyu successfully penetrated the feared ‘padmavyuha’ as he learnt it while in the womb of his mother as Arjuna explained the strategy to Subhadra. Sounds incredible? Renowned researcher Lev Vygotsky claimed that infants are born with abilities like attention, sensation, perception and memory. Our first language, the beautiful sounds of which one hears and gets familiar while in the womb, has an important role in shaping our personality, thoughts and life.” (Vice President M Venkaih Naidu, Times of India dated 20 February 2021). Mother tongue is critically essential for cognitive, psychological and personality development.
Furthermore, learning the second language at a suitable level opens our mind to the world and helps us understand others better and promote peace and harmony. Certainly, multilingualism has advantages in our society like ours, multicultural, diverse and unique in nature. A recent paper by Bialystok et al. in Neuropsychologia (vol. 45, pgs. 459 to 464) suggested that early bilingualism produced a statistically significant delay in memory loss onset symptoms in older with Alzheimer disease, possibly reflecting an increase in the cognitive reserve of these individuals.
Learning in ancient India was imparted by the teachers to pupils as a member of the family functioning as a domestic school- ‘Ashram’ where pupils’ mental faculties were developed under the Guru’s constant attention and personal instructions. Education was treated as a matter of Individual concern and as a mass production method for the industry. The making of man was regarded as an artistic and not a mechanical process. Indeed, the aim of education was developing pupil personality, his/her innate and latent capacities-laid stress on one’s inner growth, self-fulfilment and mental growth to acquire the knowledge. Thus ‘manana shakti’ was reckoned higher than the subject of thinking. The primary subject of education was the mind itself. And the medium of instruction was the mother tongue/ native value.
Advantages of mother tongue in education
There are many benefits to a child learning in their mother tongue language in the classroom:
* Mother tongue makes it easier for children to pick up and learn other languages
* Mother tongue develops a child’s personal, social and cultural identity
* Using the mother tongue helps a child develop his critical thinking and literacy skills
* Research shows that children learning in their mother tongue adopt a better understanding of the curriculum
* Skills learnt in mother tongue do not have to be re-taught when the child transfers to a second language
* Children learning in their mother tongue enjoy school more and learn faster due to feeling comfortable in their environment
* Self-esteem is higher for children learning in their mother tongue
* Parent-child interaction increases as the parent can assist with homework
* Studies show that children that capitalise on learning through multilingualism enjoy a higher socioeconomic status.
Irina Bokova, United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) director-general, said on the role of mother tongue in education: “Mother languages in a multilingual approach are essential components of quality education, which is itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their societies.” It is well understood that young children learn and grasp nontrivial concepts more quickly in their home language/mother tongue. Home language is usually the same language as the mother tongue or spoken by local communities. However, there can be a home language spoken by other family members in multilingual families, which may sometimes be different from mother tongue or local language. Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language/regional language. After that, the home/local language shall continue to be taught as a language wherever possible. Both public and private schools will follow this. ( New Education Policy, 2020, para 4.1.1, Ministry of Human Resources Development, India).
Mother tongue has a powerful impact on the formation of the personality of an individual. Our first language, the beautiful sounds of which one hears and gets familiar with before being born while in the womb, has such an essential role in shaping our thoughts and emotions. A child’s psychological and personality development will depend upon what has been conveyed through the mother tongue. With this in mind, as psychologists say, it matters tremendously that language expressions and vocabulary are chosen with care when we talk to children. A child’s first comprehension of the world around him, the learning of concepts and skills, and his perception of existence start with the first language taught to him, his mother tongue.
Similarly, a child expresses his first feelings, happiness, fears, and first words through his mother tongue. Mother language has such an essential role in framing our thinking, emotions and spiritual world because the most crucial stage of our life, childhood, is spent in its imprints. A strong bond between a child and his parents (especially the mother) is established under love, compassion, body language, and also through the most important one, which is verbal language. When a person speaks his/her mother tongue, a direct connection is established between the heart and brain.
Our personality, character, behaviour and hidden characteristics become truly revealed through the mother tongue because the mother tongue’s sound in the ear and its meaning in the heart give us trust and confidence. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart,” says Nelson Mandela. I came across an interesting article in support of the above. “The findings show how differently the brain absorbs and recalls languages learned in early childhood and later in life,” said Alice Mado Proverbio, a professor of cognitive electrophysiology at the Milano-Bicocca University in Milan. Proverbio attributed the differences to the fact that the brain absorbs the mother tongue when it is also storing early visual, acoustic, emotional and other nonlinguistic knowledge. This means that the native language triggers a series of associations within the brain that increase electrical activity. “Our mother tongue is the language we use to think, dream and feel emotions.”
Parents must create a robust home language policy and make steady efforts to help their children develop good literacy skills in their first language. The first step parents should take is to make children love their mother tongue by finding ways to motivate and encourage learning. Keep the second language to the outside world and speak to children only in your mother tongue at home. Tell stories and discuss fascinating topics such as your childhood-children love to hear about parents’ childhoods-your home country celebrations, because this will develop both their oral and vocabulary skills. Provide contexts where children can use home language such as visits to the place of origin, organise picnics, cultural events, or celebrations with families from the same community. Convey your prospects about your home language to your child’s teachers. As professionals, they can encourage and support your child in keeping and developing their home language in many ways.
“See that your children are properly educated in the rudiments of their mother tongue, and then let them proceed to higher branches of learning”
Col B S Nagial (Retd)