THE majority of South African children do not know how to read or write in their mother tongue because of the influence of English and the choice to make English their first language. It doesn’t help that there is a perception in our communities that you have made it if you speak fluent English.
IMPORTANCE OF AFRICAN LANGUAGES
Research has shown that learners who use English as their first language often forget their mother tongue. “Children who are taught in a language rather than their home language often find it challenging to understand complex topics that are taught in the other language. Most children attend schools where neither the language of their community or their home language is used,” says Susan Coetzee, director research developer in the faculty of humanities at North West University. The importance of your child being taught in their home language is that they will understand better at school and will be more comfortable when learning. “Children who go to school with a solid foundation of their mother tongue develop literacy abilities in the language of instruction at school.”
SPEAKING YOUR HOME LANGUAGE
Encourage your child to speak their mother tongue by setting an example and speaking the language. Read to your child in your home language and frequently visit family elders. Teachers can also help children retain and develop their mother tongue by communicating strong affirmative messages about the value of knowing additional languages. “Members of the community, parents and caregivers also need to provide additional learning support and build on what the teachers are doing,” says Susan. “Teachers require access to materials that allow them to provide a platform in the students’ mother tongue. When a child is learning something for the first time, language is the bridge that takes them where they need to go and without the right language neither student nor teacher can set off on the learning journey.”
THE IMPROVEMENT OF HOME LANGUAGE
As most schools encourage the use of English on the school grounds, it is advisable to encourage your child to speak in their mother tongue at home. This way, your child will become multi-lingual. Parents, guardians and society also play a role and have influence on how language is dominant in a child’s life. Your child connects to you,the relatives, their culture, history, identity and religion through their mother tongue. Speaking their mother tongue links your child to their culture and shapes their identity. Children who are unaware of their culture, language and history might lose their self-confidence. Find ways to help your child maintain and improve their mother tongue and also teach them to respect other cultures.