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On International Mother Language Day, let's celebrate our mother tongue. Find out what you can do to encourage your child to learn and speak her mother tongue
Seema was looking forward to enrolling her daughter in preschool, but she was very nervous. Her 2.5-year-old daughter, Nitya, knew only her mother tongue. Seema was afraid this would hamper her daughter's performance in preschool where English was the language of learning. She began talking to her daughter more and more in English. But as days drew closer to the start of the academic year, she realized that Nitya was still more comfortable communicating in her mother tongue. Seema was concerned but forcing her child to speak only in English made it stressful for both mother and daughter. Once Nitya started school, it took her a few months to get comfortable with English. Slowly, as she became more and more comfortable speaking in English, she was able to easily switch between the two languages. Her learning was not hampered and in fact, Nitya began to communicate clearly in both the languages.
Do you know that every year, February 21 is celebrated as International Mother Language Day? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been celebrating this day for about two decades to promote multilingualism and preserve linguistic diversity.
The theme of this year's International Mother Language Day is, "Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society," and UNESCO is urging policymakers to impart education, especially in the early years, in the child's mother language.
In a world that is experiencing rapid globalization, one may ask: Why does a child need to know their mother tongue? Well, for one, it's a well-researched fact that multilingualism has positive effects on a child's cognitive development and academic performance. Research by Baker and Cummins in 2000, published in Multilingual Matters, found that learning the mother tongue can help a child build a strong foundation for further language development. So, when the parents at home encourage the use of the mother tongue on a daily basis, they help their child develop a deeper understanding of how to use sounds and language to express himself verbally and communicate effectively.
You're probably wondering how learning one's mother tongue will impact the learning of another language once your child enters preschool. Let's find out.
Have you ever wondered how children learn to translate from one language to another without being explicitly taught? This is because the transfer across languages can be extremely smooth and easy for children who have been exposed to multiple languages right from an early age. So, a child can carry his mother language to school and bring another one back home, just like Nitya did. This is true even for children whose mother and father speak different languages. Simply put, all the languages a child is exposed to nurture each other. For the child's brain, the two (or sometimes more) languages are interdependent.
1. Brain Development
"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."
- Nelson Mandela
3. Diversity and Inclusion
Now that we have discussed why learning the mother tongue (or father tongue!) is important for your child, here are three ways you can encourage your child's love for their mother tongue at home:
This seems like a given. However, speaking in your mother tongue should not be restricted to your home. Encourage your child to converse in her mother tongue with others outside your home. When she hears you converse in your mother tongue with others around you, besides just family, she will feel more confident and prouder about knowing her mother tongue.
Many parents expect their child to speak in English as soon as they step outside their home. But this doesn't benefit the child. Your child's language abilities are still a work in progress and with such expectations, she's likely to get confused, not by the languages (because children are better at learning languages than adults), but by your insistence that she should speak one language at home and another outside. Trust that with time, your child will figure out which language is to be spoken in which situation. Until then, allow her to express herself in the way she feels most comfortable.
This can be a challenge, especially for those living in nuclear families and in metropolitan cities. Here are few simple ways to introduce your culture to your child through your mother tongue:
As children love learning more about their families, there's nothing better than a visit to the town you grew up in.
In today's world, there are many multiracial families, where each parent comes from a different culture and each one speaks a different language. Studies show that when children are younger than 7 years of age, their brains process all languages in a similar manner. When a child is exposed to different languages at an early age, she's able to understand the finer nuances of the language, such as the sounds and accents, the grammar and sentence structure. Later, as she grows, it becomes more difficult to master a language. So, early exposure to multiple languages helps your child master not one but many languages.
So, if your child is growing up in a household where multiple languages are spoken, expose her to all the different languages-mom can speak to the child in one language, dad in another, and maybe grandma in yet another language.
Wondering if your child will be confused? Initially, your child may show signs of slower language development as she tries to process the different sounds and languages she hears and what they are communicating to her. She'll probably mix up the different languages in one sentence as she speaks to you. That is wonderful. Her brain is beginning to make connections and distinctions between the different languages she's hearing around her. Soon, she'll be fluent in all the languages and will figure out how to switch between them as she talks to different people at home. And yes, you guessed it. She will be better than you in speaking your partner's mother tongue!
Another hidden benefit of knowing the mother tongue is that it can actually become a code language for your child. As your child grows, you will hear her happiness, her sadness, her secrets and even the occasional "Please don't embarrass me!" in your mother tongue. But the best thing you'll ever say or hear, in your own language, is, "I love you." Go say it to your child now and remember to use your mother tongue!
In a nutshell
What you can do right away
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