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The value of mother tongue in learning literature at Northbridge

Nancy Calimlim
Nancy Calimlim (5 posts) Language and Literature Curriculum Leader, MUN Coordinator, DP English B and MYP English L&L Teacher View Profile

In many international schools, English is the medium of instruction, and with English becoming extremely popular with children and teenagers in many parts of the world, and quite evidently at Northbridge International School Cambodia, our Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Russian, French, Spanish and Japanese students have become accustomed to speak their thoughts in English. Do they think in English, too? Do they analyse in English, too? Do they reflect in English, too? Do they express their feelings in English, too?

Northbridge International School Cambodia - Languages

Studies have emphasized over and over that our Mother Tongue is the language of our heart and mind. Amy Tan, a Chinese-American author, wrote in one of her essays that her Mother Tongue is “her language, as I hear it, is vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery. That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world” (Tan, 1990). Mother Tongue is the foundation of our knowledge because the neurons in our brain are shaped by the language we first heard, learned, and spoke.

At NISC, we promote the value of Mother Tongue because we believe in its intrinsic ability in molding students who possess high levels of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills. We offer Language and Literature courses in the following languages: Khmer, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. 

Northbridge International School Cambodia - Khmer

MYP Khmer Language and Literature

DP Khmer Literature

By Ms. Samphors Sar and Ms. Lyda Vann


As children learn their Mother Tongue from birth, they have been taught the social behavior of people around them through that language. Thus, learning and improving their Mother Tongue will benefit them as it deepens their understanding of the language, which eventually enhances their confidence in producing successful communication.

Using mother tongue is the way of maintaining cultural identity. This is as important as the national language. Using the language spoken by the majority in a country is the respect for the majority and they will not have difficulties navigating the society despite misunderstandings, disputes, or culture shocks.

John Dewey, an American educational reformer, claims that “arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” If one aspires to learn a second language, it is fundamental that the concrete foundation of mother tongue is formed; thus, when a mother tongue is successfully achieved, the next goal of acquiring a second language will be very highly attained.

Not only does the mother tongue aid in the second language acquisition, but it also enables a learner to pick up a new concept and improve critical thinking in literary studies. For instance, literary devices can be easily understood if they already possess a similar knowledge when learning them in her/his own language.

Northbridge International School Cambodia - Chinese

DP Chinese Language and Literature 

By Ms. Yu Bing Ice


Chinese students at NISC attend their academic subjects, apart from Chinese A, in English, which is very exhausting and challenging for them, especially if their level of English is low.

On the other hand, Chinese A is a challenging course but one that Chinese students often feel more comfortable in as they study in their Mother Tongue. Our students understand the value of learning and using their Mother Tongue due to the support of their parents. Both the students and parents place a high value on Chinese A Language and Literature.

Our Chinese A students at NISC face another challenge, which they may be unaware of: it's cultural identity. As they learn with non-Chinese friends in other classes, they quickly assimilate with the non-Chinese cultural aspects that are popular within their age group. Over time the Chinese culture may seem out of touch from their identity because only their parents would remind them of it. Outside the Chinese A classroom, their cultural identity would be a blur, so the students somehow feel isolated from their culture. It is therefore the role of the Chinese A teacher to teach the language and to embed the cultural context, in which the students can relate to and feel connected to.

In the process of continuous learning and use of their Mother Tongue, Chinese students will improve their critical thinking skills, change their learning attitude, and improve their emotional intelligence through Chinese A Language and Literature. For example, the appreciation of modern literature reading works, embodies the humanistic spirit and emphasizes the perception of life.

After reading the literature work, students are influenced by literature and deeply appreciate the author’s language style. In addition, the in-depth study of the characters’ psychological emotions and experiences, inspire students to combine their own growth; thus, they learn to put themselves in the complex and delicate emotions. In this way, they can gain insights about life from reading, and then strength themselves to promote the rapid improvement of emotional intelligence ability in all aspects and become a better person.

Northbridge International School Cambodia - Korean

MYP and DP Korean Language and Literature

By Ms Yunjung Kim


We live in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We often hear that many jobs will be lost and replaced by AI. In the midst of this confusion, you can find common ground by listening to advice from scholars: humans should add more value to their work through creative thinking.

How can creativity be nurtured in Korean Language and Literature? People often think of creative thinking as a creative activity: something new and something that is out of this world. However, if you look at products of creative thinking, you see that creative thinking is not a whole new idea that falls from the sky. Creative thinking is: 

  1. based on logical thinking: the ability to examine context, assess causality, and assess ideas

  2. based on analytical thinking: the ability to understand complex situations and identify hidden meanings

  3. based on divergent thinking: a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions

  4. based on convergent thinking: the ability to choose the most appropriate of ideas and possibilities.

We augment these thinking abilities when learning in our Mother Tongue. Children learning and using their native language pick up abstract concepts such as confrontation, comparison, and hierarchy. In addition, the various thinking skills mentioned above can be intensified through writing and discussion in Korean Language and Literature.

Of course, it is important to intensify our Mother Tongue through education. It greatly helps us enrich our lives culturally and improve our creativity. Therefore, schools should strengthen its Mother Tongue Program because of the value it provides our students. The common mistake many people make is that they do not make much effort, thinking that their native language will improve by itself if they use it at home.

Students living in their home country speak their native language not only at home, but also at school and after-school life, so they may not seem to have put much effort into it. If you live abroad, you should make more special efforts to improve your native language. Why don't you listen to the news in your Mother Tongue, and discuss it with your parents together? 

Perhaps we should start today.