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Why mother tongue matters

Many parents are so excited at the prospect of teaching their child how to speak English, that they neglect the most important foundation in learning English which is fluency in their mother tongue.

Mother Tongue

It seems counterproductive - but the truth is that the more proficient a child is in their mother tongue, the easier it will be for them to acquire additional languages and reach proficiency in these. This is why when students and parents are making language choice, wherever possible, we encourage them to choose their mother tongue.


What is a child’s mother tongue?

A mother tongue is the first language that you learn when you are a baby, rather than a language learned at school or as an adult.


Why is it important?

Research has shown that an important step in learning an additional language is first developing one’s mother tongue. It has also been shown that in order to have strong language skills later in life a person should continue to develop their mother tongue from when they are young right through to adulthood.  This not only helps them to communicate well with people, but it also helps connect them to their culture and history.


What can you as a parent do to support your child’s language development?

Children who come to school with a solid foundation in their mother tongue don’t only benefit personally by connecting with their culture and family members, but they also benefit intellectually and develop stronger literacy skills including learning an additional language.

The level of development of the children’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development Thomas and Collin, 2001

To support your child’s mother tongue development, you can:

  • Talk to your child and tell them stories about your life using a wide range of vocabulary, idioms and expressive language

  • Sing traditional songs, tell poems, and teach your child poems and nursery rhymes in your home language

  • Make sure students have access to storybooks in the mother tongue and read to them daily

  • Make time to hold long conversations in your mother tongue ensuring that all family members participate

  • Only speak in your mother tongue at home and encourage your children to do the same.

  • See if you can find appropriate shows for your child to watch in your home language. When using an online viewing platform such as Netflix, check the language settings to see if you can find shows in your child’s mother tongue.


How does strength in your mother tongue help you to learn another language?

Many different skills learned in your child’s mother tongue can be transferred to other languages. These include literacy skills, social skills, critical thinking skills, and communication skills. It is very important that parents speak their mother tongue at home as it also develops expressive language allowing your child to communicate their feelings in a healthy way.

So if you want your child to become stronger in English and it is not your home language, the best thing you can do is not speak English with them, but rather celebrate the language of your home and spend time with them reading, writing and speaking in their mother tongue.


Further reading:

Blog: On Raising Bilingual Children

Website from Singaporean Government on Mother tongue development

Website: The Fountain : Mother Tongue- The Language of Heart and Mind