By Irene Lamunu
Majority of the elite homes in and around Kampala today, many parents no longer consider the mother language as something important. Parents in these homes prefer that their children learn English and any other foreign language for reasons best known to them. Some parents say that their children need to learn English because it’s the language they use at school and any other place; they don’t think it’s important for their children to learn their mother tongue. To some, they think it’s backward for children to learn and speak their local language. Joan Nantubwe a resident of Bweyogerere said she wants her children to speak English for easy communication. A lecturer at Makerere University in the department of African Language Dr. Ssentanda Medadi says that children speaking English at home is okay as long as it is the language they will use at school.
He noted that a problem would only arise if the children were required to use another language at school because they would struggle to pick up the school language. He also advised that the language one learns from home is a resource to the child and if he/she goes to school and he/she is denied to learn through that language it becomes a disadvantage. The ‘Mother language’ plays a very big role in the child’s development and it is not for the backward or the illiterate. Jessica Ball from Victoria University, in her paper, “Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds mother tongue -based bilingual or multilingual education in early childhood and early primary school years,” she wrote for UNSECO says that mother tongue instruction generally refers to the use of the learners’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction. Additionally, mother language is referred to as language1 and it’s used as a subject of instruction. It is considered to be an important component of quality education, particularly in the early years of a child. She also noted that the expert view is that mother tongue instruction should cover both the teaching of and the teaching through this language.
Dr. Ball also added that mother tongue though widely used may refer to several different situations, it could mean the language one had learnt first, the language one identifies with or is identified as a native speaker of other language. In her paper she also notes that language is not only a tool for communication and knowledge but also a fundamental attribute of cultural identity and empowerment, both for the individual and the group respect for the language of persons belonging to different linguistics communities. Therefore, it’s essential to peaceful cohabitation and this applies to the majority, minorities and to the indigenous groups. Dr. Medadi Ssentanda agrees with Dr. Ball that the mother tongue contributes widely in the education and learning for children. He said, the language one learns at home is a resource to the learner. He noted that if one is denied their mother tongue they are disadvantaged in many ways. “If you go to school and you are denied the right to learn through the mother tongue, you are disadvantaged in many ways, first of all you will struggle to pick up the school language,” Dr. Ssentanda commented.
He noted that lack of a mother tongue is the reason why many people struggle to pick up the school language. The children attain the concept of education when they go to school through their mother tongue and when they go to school for the very first time, what they know about the world is through their mother tongue. Dr. Ssentanda believes that there are many strategies that can be used to teach many local languages in schools if the policy is planned well. Many times, he says, it’s a challenge that both the teachers and pupils face. The teachers are not deployed to work in accordance with their mother tongue localities and as such they are always deployed in a different region. Ms. Jessica Ball said that until recently, two explanatory approaches, which include: Behaviorist and Nativist, dominated understandings about language acquisition. Following a behaviorists approach, infants continue to produce and to learn the properties of language, that are positively reinforced by the child’s care-giver and other members of the child’s social community.
She added that critics of this account point to the speed of language acquisition in the early years and the stability of the acquired meaning neither of which can be explained by the behaviorist position. Meanwhile, she also explains that nativists following chimsky (1965, 1975) argued that children have an innate grasp of how language works. Thus, while language input activates their inborn capacity for learning the language, their learning is internally guided. Dr. Ball also added that critics of this position point to empirical studies showing that the quality and quantity of a child’s exposure to language affects their learning.
Dr. Ssentanda also said that research indicates that when children learn using the mother tongue in schools, they stay longer in school. “Research indicates that through the mother tongue, when children learn for a longer period of time they keep longer in school especially for the girl child, because this is a social activity and it affects a child’s complexity if they cannot speak a particular language as they feel insecure and are forced out of school because of the inferiority complex. He also noted that many people’s insecurity comes from not being able to speak a language well, “Many people will not tell you they are struggling picking up a language because they feel embarrassed, if one feels uncomfortable they withdraw but if they are comfortable with a language, learning is easier and faster.” If a person lacks proficiency in a language, they face many problems including learning in schools.
Recently, developmental psychologists have applied contemporary theories of learning to explain language acquisition. They argue that a language is uniquely human, biologically based capacity and that the inherent potential to learn a language depends on the language environment effectively, and a bio cultural perspective. The United Nations also set standard instruments. The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human rights (1948) affirms the right to education without discrimination. Article 2 of this fundamental document establishes the basic principle against discrimination on the grounds of language. Then Article 5 of the 1960 convention and recommendation against discrimination in education specifically recognizes the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities including the use or the teaching of their own language. In addition, numerous other United Nations declarations and conventions affirm the rights of minorities including indigenous people to learn and / or have instruction in language 1 or their heritage language.
UNESCO also has a declaration and convention on mother language, the first article of the UNESCO constitution sets forth the fundamental principal that language should not induce any kind of discrimination. The human rights and fundamental freedoms are affirmed for the people of the world without distinction of race, sex, language or religion. The 1960 convention against discrimination in education lays down the educational right of minorities of particular relevance to language. Article 5 holds that the members of national minorities have the right to carry on their own educational activities, including the use or the teaching of their own language. That this right is not exercised in a manner, which prevents the members of these minorities from understanding the culture and language of the community as a whole and from participating in its activities.
In 1999, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) created the International Mother Language Day (IMLD), which is celebrated every year on 21st February. UNESCO supports the mother language and multilingual education through International Mother Language Day (IMLD). The overall objective of the Day is to contribute to promoting Global Citizenship education. This year, the celebration will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. On their website, UNESCO stated that, the Promotional activities of mother language and multilingual education should be undertaken at country level. Meanwhile, the theme for this year’s International Mother Language Day is: “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.” The Day is in line with “Education for People and the Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All”, a theme of UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on Education, 2016.
The International Mother Language Day was established on November 17th, 1999, and it was first observed in 2000 choosing the date of Bangladesh’s public holiday Shaheed day (Martyrs day) in the 2008 international mother language day, the international year of languages day, the international year of languages was formally launched. This day remembers the killing of four students in Bangladesh in 1952 for promoting the use of their mother tongue Bengali.
This special day promotes respect for the native languages and the basic human rights to use the mother language. Its purpose is to promote linguistic and cultural diversity.
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