February 21st each year since 2000 observes International Mother language day. Our mother tongues are an essential part of our thinking minds, our identities and the bedrock of all our learning. Languages tap into the world’s rich cultural diversity, memory, tradition ,unique ways of thinking and expression. It is very important in today’s global village to preserve one’s mother tongue.
Why is mother language important?
Language is a tool not just for communication but a vehicle for culture and heritage. Mother languages symbolise one’s identity, safety, grounding and birth. According to science our brains are hard-wired for language. Noam Chomsky put forward a theory, summed up, for humans, language is a basic instinct. Initially criticized there is more evidence that shows he was right after all. As human we have an innate ability to acquire universal grammar, learning our first language(s) from as early as four months old.
It is therefore of concern when languages slowly disappear. According to UN At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
Forgetting your first language can potentially lead to;
- Identity loss and confusion
- a sense of alienation
- difficult connections with family members and community
What you can do to nurture your first language
I’m an aspiring polyglot in African languages. It’s in light of this that I’ve come to appreciate speaking and preserving my mother tongue. Regardless of how many languages we are able to learn, our home languages are the foundations of which everything else we learn builds on. It is therefore important to continue nurturing our first languages by doing some of the following ;
- Parents, teachers and caregivers should read as well as encourage children to read books, newspapers, magazines etcetera written in one’s mother tongue. South Africa has great initiatives like Rera and Nal’bali which promotes reading and writing in mother tongues
- Children who have parents who speak different first languages can learn both languages. Some evidence suggests some bilingual children may take longer to speak compared to a child of same age learning one language. This however should not deter parents from encouraging and speaking in both languages to their children.
- Listening to the radio or watching news in your mother tongue
- Many people including children due to cultural diversity, workplace dynamics and schooling structures interact,learn and socialise in a different language to the one spoken at home. It is therefore importance to speak your first language as much as possible once back in the safety of home, family and community.
- If living outside country or city of origin, were the opportunity to speak your home language is limited. Visiting home occasionally if possible helps you to remain grounded and plugged into own culture, language and identity.
No place like home language…
As the saying goes ‘ there is no place like home’ Native languages l believe are an extension of ‘home’ and who we’re as a people. It is through languages that we experience the richness and diversity of cultures, history, heritage and identity. As we celebrate International Language day let us continue to inspire linguistic diversity and solidarity through understanding, tolerance and dialogue
Asante Sana! Thank you! Tatenda! Siyabonga! Enkosi! Dankie! Kea Leboha! Ndza Khensa!