Own language is key

2019-05-08 06:01

More time is needed to teach children in their mother language to improve learning ability.

According to the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy (Mill), teaching children in their mother language is key to improving the understanding that children have, and to enable them to grasp and improve their reading with comprehension.

The confirmation of the importance of teaching children in their mother language followed recent findings by Mill that learners struggle to make the transition from learning in their mother language to learning in English after only three years – as it is happening in South Africa.

Masennya Dikotla, chief executive officer of Mill, said in South Africa children are taught in their mother language for the first three years of their formal education (Gr. 1 to Gr. 3) before they begin learning in English in Gr. 4.

Due to neglect in regards with using mother language, South Africa is facing a literacy crisis.

According to findings, 78% of Gr. 4 learners have difficulty to understand what they read.

Dikotla maintains that education in a mother language needs to be reinforced and developed for at least six years or more of formal schooling.

English must be taught as a subject for effective literacy attainment for the development of Eng­lish as a second language and for academic success to be achieved, he said.

According to Dikotla, it takes six to eight years to learn a second language well enough for it to be used as a medium of instruction.

“If a change in the medium of instruction happens before the learners have developed a high level of written and spoken pro­ficiency in both their first and second language, the learning process throughout the curriculum will be interrupted and frustrated,” said Dikotla.

“The development of the level of literacy necessary for reading and writing in Science, History and Geography, as well as other subjects, or understanding problems in Mathematics, becomes more difficult from Gr. 4 onwards.”

South Africa was placed last out of 50 countries in the recently released Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls).

The study found that eight out of ten Gr. 4 learners cannot read for meaning.

Tragically, most of the learners who performed badly in the Pirls study wrote their tests in their mother language – the language they had been taught in from Gr. 1 to Gr. 3.

“Making children learn in English in Gr. 4 when they have not even mastered reading and writing in their mother language really compounds the problem.”


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