February 29, 2016

Children learn to read best when they read in their mother tongue first

Written by Mother Tongue Based–MultiLingual Education Network

Mother and her baby in Ghana

Credit: Jessica Scranton for FHI 360 in Ghana

Language is one of the most important variables affecting education. Indeed, we will not achieve Education for All unless we provide children with the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue. The MTB-MLE path to school success is based on providing children with an equitable opportunity to access learning. Use of the mother tongue, or home languages, is key to increasing access to school and facilitating learning, including learning of second language. This is because the use of a child’s home language is one of the most important factors in helping children learn to read and write, learning academic content (such as mathematics and history), and also learning other languages. Primary education programs that begin in children’s mother tongue help students gain early reading skills more quickly, as well as transfer key skills to a second language. Without a solid foundation in literacy, math and other subjects, children will not succeed in school. They will not pass their exams, they will be discouraged and alienated from the culture of school, and they will drop out, often after only a few years.

The case for mother tongue-based and multilingual education is therefore simple and powerful: Children learn best in a language that is familiar to them. Although children can learn a language other than their mother tongue, they learn best—especially in the early years— in an environment in which the language used to teach is also one they speak in their home, with their parents, their siblings, and friends. This is especially true in environments where children have little or no exposure to a second or foreign language. Moreover, since the school is a new social environment to children starting their education, learning in a mother tongue language also helps to ease this transition, providing a bridge from the “known” to the “unknown.”

The goal of mother tongue-based, bilingual and multilingual programs is to make children literate in their first language, as well as to help children acquire fluency in a second language. This does not have to be an either/or scenario—indeed, children who learn to read their first language first are more likely to acquire a second language. This is one important argument behind making the case for MTB-MLE. This Resource Basket presents an overview of the key issues for making the case for MTB-MLE. The basket provides an overview of the current situation and environment related to MTB-MLE. The content and resources provided describe the many vantages of MTB-MLE, including improved learning outcomes, support and respect for culture, and the financial advantage of educating children in a language they understand.

Read more here!