VOICES | Why is Mother Language important?

Is language Important
A woman with a South African flag pinned to her headscarf, attends a commemoration, under theme of unity in action, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of late Chief Albert Luthuli, the Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former African National Congress (ANC) party leader, in Groutville, 60 kilometres north of Durban, on July 21, 2017 – Photo: RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP`

An old quote has it that “they call it mother tongue because the fathers never got to speak,”. This points out women’s influential role in child development and mannerisms. Well, that’s if one perceives this quote from a literal point of view.

That fact can be debated at any point though. However, when it comes to the preservation of mother language and culture, fathers should be as equally responsible as mothers.

Commemorations of the International Mother Language Day were held today and it feels awkward that I’m articulating about the importance of mother tongue whilst the language I’m using is not my own.

That’s exactly the reason why this day is significant to remind us that we should preserve linguistic diversity and promote multilingual education in schools.

The University of Johannesburg joined in the commemorations and they challenged students to respond in their mother language how to say ” I love you “

A report by Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) states that 78% of grade 4 pupils in South Africa cannot comprehend what they read.

This is attributed to the fact that learners who receive education in their mother tongue perform better than those taught in another language. Such findings explain why there is a huge gap in the pass rate of English speakers and native language speakers who are both being taught in English.

English as the dominant language in learning, render our own mother language less important. It will also perpetuate the misconception that those who speak English eloquently are intelligent and those who cannot do so are illiterate. That misconception is catastrophic in the sense that when native language becomes of less importance, extinction is inevitable.

International Mothers Language Day was announced by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) in 1999 after the realization that linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear.

UNESCO believes that one native language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. To substantiate those claims, the late Nelson Mandela, once stated that “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,”.

That leaves us with one conclusion, we should teach our children mother tongue, they should be taught that English is not a superior language, if we ignore our own mother language and the culture that comes with it, we’re doing so at our own peril!