You are immediately connected to the environment you are born into from birth. This includes language, culture, values and heritage. Therefore, language is essential in relating one to their culture and many aspects of life. Our mother tongue plays a significant role in children’s learning and connects them to their communities.
The University of Pretoria Lecturer, Dr Connie Makgabo, says that a child first understands their environment through the language they hear their mother communicating before they are born and throughout their life.
The mother tongue helps children develop cognitive skills and literacy skills
“It is the first language a child is exposed to and learns to express themselves in. It is fundamental in their growth in education,” she explains.
She further adds that language doesn’t only connect children to their culture, but it also provides them with better cognitive development while also supporting the learning of other languages.
“Research has found that children whose home language foundation is strong develop more important literacy skills in the school language and that their knowledge and skills are quickly and easily transferred to other languages (Cummins 2000),” says Dr Makgabo.
Learning in their mother tongue also allows children to engage with content as they can better understand what they are learning.
“Mother-tongue medium learning encourages active participation by children in the learning process because they understand what is being discussed and can effectively answer the questions.
As children develop their mother tongue, they create a variety of other essential skills, such as critical thinking and literacy skills,” Dr Mokgabo says.
The mother tongue exposes children to culture
Culture is one of the most important aspects of connecting to your family and our various communities. The mother tongue can help children learn more deeply and meaningfully about their culture.
“The mother tongue validates and strengthens the culture of origin and traditional knowledge of the learner. Learners gain a better sense of themselves and have a strong sense of belonging and identity when they know and understand their mother tongue,” she says.
Dr Makgabo adds that using a familiar language for instruction endorses the learners’ culture and knowledge while creating a bridge between the formal school system and the children’s home and community environment.
Inclusion and diversity
School is a great place to foster inclusion and diversity. Schools are made up of children from different backgrounds, making it difficult for all children to feel they belong.
“For learners who are subjected or forced to learn or communicate in a foreign language, learning becomes a barrier. She says that learners need to be allowed to learn and speak their mother tongue freely to conceptualise ideas clearly,” she says.
She further explains that Proficiency in their mother tongue enables them to learn other languages easily.
“The use of the mother tongue in education is important not only to preserve culture but also to make education more inclusive and equitable,” says Dr Makgabo.
SPARK Scholars share why they love their mother tongue:
Musa Hadebe in Grade 3
Musa says she loves speaking her mother tongue because it makes sense. She speaks IsiZulu with her mom, and she understands it better than other languages.
What she appreciates about her mother tongue is that it is her home language, she is used to speaking Isizulu, and it is part of her culture.
Jayden Moloi in Grade 6
Jayden Moloi loves speaking his mother tongue, Sesotho, because many people in South Africa speak the language. This makes it easy for him to communicate with other people who understand the language.
Lethukuthula Mazibuko in Grade 4
Lethukuthula says she loves speaking her mother tongue because it makes her feel proud as a South African and a Zulu girl. The ones she appreciates about her mother tongue are the culture, food and dance, as she feels those represent the Zulu culture well.
Lwandle Mavundla in Grade 5
Lwandle loves speaking her mother tongue because it teaches her many things and makes her pass her IsiZulu subject. She always says that it is the nicest language and has many celebrations. E.g. traditions like Umemulo when girls turn 21 years.
Lwandle says the one thing she appreciates about her mother tongue is that she gets good marks in IsiZulu because she is familiar with it and speaks it at home.
Omphile Mathibe in Grade 7
Omphile says she loves speaking her mother tongue, SeTswana, because it has taught her many things about being a young woman. She says she appreciates her mother tongue because she can converse with Sotho people as it is similar and familiar.
To learn more about SPARK Schools learning model, please click here.