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The mother tongue is a practical learning avenue especially for children
The mother tongue is a practical learning avenue especially for children
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Mother Tongue: The Anchor of Learning

Indigenous groups around the world thrive on its rich linguistic and cultural diversity.  

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All cultures and worldviews about our world are equally legitimate. Such worldviews are expressed through the diverse cultures and languages of the groups of people inhabiting the world.

To wit, all cultures and languages contribute to the diverse knowledge of the world.

From that perspective, all languages are equal; none is superior to the other therefore people must value and honour their languages by using them to explore the universe.

There is a related crucial reason for people to use the mother tongue; it tends to be a practical learning avenue, especially for children. Human language is not an empty concept, just as speech is not a fluke activity.

Speech dilates the concept of language. People conceive of ideas in their minds and articulate such in an intelligible language to make others understand and benefit from such ideas. 

That explains the reason people learn from one another. All humans possess speech ability, verbal or non-verbal. People belong to cultures which constitute a way of life for each group inhabiting the world, hence, every culture possesses a system of teaching or learning.  

All global learning systems are diverse legitimate ways of learning about the world we are inhabiting – the value systems, ways of interaction, food and clothing systems, and modes of instruction – to mention but a few. The rich diversity of the world emanates from the different perspectives of inhabiting cultures.

 If we lacked those differences in worldviews and ways, the world would be one big boring place, and there might be no need for travel and tourism.

Recognising the need to accept and respect others’ cultures and views as well as learn tolerance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) advocates a multilingual approach – learning through mother tongue(s), regional or national language and an international language.

Teaching or learning through three languages will empower children intellectually, linguistically and socio-culturally. There cannot be a better way to educate an entire person, and the benefits cut across generations.

Hence, last month, UNESCO chose the theme for the 2024 celebration of International Mother Language Day (IMLD): “Multilingual education is a pillar of intergenerational learning.”

Those of us belonging to oral cultures must better understand and appreciate the theme. Our values, linguistic stock such as proverbs, narrative styles, eloquence, myths, legends and customs – to name these – have been passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth.

Throughout the centuries, elders have mastered the oral system and nurtured growing generations to imbibe the tradition to hand it down to succeeding ones.

The resilience of the cultures is evident in their survival. Contemporary generations have a huge responsibility to ensure that the mother languages used to express the oral cultures especially, do not become extinct to reduce the rich global diversity.

The same mother language plays a crucial role in formal learning, especially in the formative years. When parents communicate with their children in the mother tongue(s), they enhance the children’s learning ability. When the child is continuously exposed to the language(s) used to teach her/him about primary concepts, it reinforces their grasp.

As they get older and develop fluency, they gingerly grasp the primary arbitrary usage of the language.

Since all languages possess arbitrary rules, when it is time to introduce another language to the child in school, he or she can transfer the skills acquired in the first language(s) for a better grasp of the second language.

Then the challenges of second language acquisition are better weathered. Thus, there is no grounds for the monolingual English stance endangering Ghanaian languages.

What should be of real concern is the poor result of marginalising Ghanaian indigenous languages. The 2021 Housing and Population Census states the high illiteracy rate of Ghanaian youth.

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For the literate, there is the nagging issue of poor understanding. Poor literacy and comprehension skills are holding the youth back from actively engaging in emerging concepts of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Knowledge Economy. 

Consequently, such ones can only navigate the peripheries of local industry without matching the skills the industry needs. That does not augur well for the state and the economy.  

If stakeholders were not trifling the issue of poor literacy, they would tackle the problem by embarking on a decade-long Ghanaian language immersion programme. If that happened, parents, teachers and the older generations would synergise to nurture the language skills of children.

 As they advance through the lower primary, they can transfer linguistic skills to bilingual or multilingual acquisition.

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Ironically, international bodies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are busily complementing the efforts of UNESCO to promote mother language acquisition among schoolchildren while many Ghanaian parents promote English only.

 Tertiary institutions are fixated on money so gloss over the poor literacy reality to produce half-baked graduates who are teeming the unemployment ranks. It is time we stopped playing ostriches to develop human capital.

[email protected]
Sr. Lecturer, Languages and Communication Skills
Takoradi Technical University
Takoradi

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