Monday 12 April 2021
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Mother Tongue is the Foundation

181215281-edit-56a13e133df78cf77268b820 getty_first_grade_class_students_raising_hands_smiling_large_christopher-futcher-574b53845f9b5851654693f2Every language spoken in the world represents a special culture, melody, colour and accent and to everyone their mother’s language is certainly one of the most precious treasures in life. It’s a duty and responsibility to preserve it and pass it down from generation to generation.

Whether it is urged by necessity or because of other reasons, knowing the mother tongue brings a lot of advantages in one’s life. The mother tongue  opens a new window in a person’s world view and makes them more aware, open-minded, and respectful to their culture, lifestyles, customs and beliefs.

Jurgen Höffmann, an educational psychologist in Windhoek says that the mother tongue is where the cultural components are embedded, where the norms and traditions are taught. “All of this information can basically be transferred to the child, so that he or she has excess to a wider developmental domain that will help to develop that person in general,” he explained.

Most modern parents nowadays prefer taking their children to schools in towns for the good English development of the children. However, in such instances most children end up with English as their primary language which has resulted in them losing the ability to speak their mother tongue, which is a huge tragedy.

The ability to speak English has always been associated with being educated and informed and as such it might appear fancy and as a status symbol to hear a child speaking fluent English at a tender age but cannot utter a word in their home language. This has a detrimental effect on the child’s development in the long run.

Most children are taught their mother tongue but as soon as they start going to school where they are taught in English they then start speaking English exclusively. However it remains the parent’s responsibility to ensure that the home language is not lost. A parent can enforce this by continuing to speak to their child in their mother tongue even if they answer back in English.

Significance of the mother tongue
Höffmann stressed that the mother tongue basically develops the concept of language in a person and when a person have the concept of language they will have the concept of thinking and the concept of reality.

“So usually a person’s mother tongue has the widest terminology and the widest kind of education of knowledge to what is going on in the world,” he said.

A person’s language and their culture are two things that go together and people need to have a common culture and common ground in terms of the multicultural sensitive society in Namibia. However, Hoffmann advises that if people go back to their roots, if they go and connect with their norms and values they can do the best with their mother tongues because that is where the traditions come from and from that is where people can connect with the extended family, they can tell stories about their cultures.

If you cannot speak the home language
For Rebecca Malakia, who was raised by a modern and young mother, she remembers that she hardly spoke her mother tongue with her mother. “My mother always wanted me exposed to so many cultures and environments in the hope that it will help me become a thriving bright child but little did she know that it would  be quiet detrimental to my development as a child.

Also, I was the only Oshiwambo speaking in my neighbourhood dominated by Ovaherero hence I was forced to learn their language for play dates and such” explained Rebecca.

Rebecca says that she is not happy about this circumstance as she struggles to construct meaningful conversations with her peers and relatives in her native language. “I am willing to learn now as an adult but I have to go through a regular struggle of being ridiculed when I make mistakes.” Hoffmann said that if a child does not know his or her home language their culture, traditions and sense of belongingness to their roots will not be easily accessible for a child.

Parents should not stop their children from learning English, but ensure that they know their mother tongue too. “If you have a language that gives you a platform of thinking, to operate from then it will be easier if you have a solid base to put on other languages that will extend your knowledge. If not yet fully developed then it will be very difficult to form other constructs on top of that. If it’s not a solid foundation everything is like a bucket with holes,” advised Höffmann.

Since language is part of one’s culture and identity, not teaching your child their mother tongue can be a major disadvantage in the long run. Cultures and traditions need to be preserved and language is one of the major keys to doing so.

Losing your language is the first step to losing your culture. However, having your child speak more than one language at an earlier age is also a good thing for the child’s development. Being multilingual allows the child to communicate with more people and opens up their world.

It is understandable that parents want their children to be able to communicate in English, but that should not be at the expense of your home language. Learning English might be a great essential but learning their mother tongue is too.

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