Abhimanyu successfully penetrated the feared ‘padmavyuha’ as he learnt it while in the womb of his mother as Arjuna explained the strategy to Subhadra. Sounds incredible? Renowned researcher Vygotsky claimed that infants are born with abilities like attention, sensation, perception and memory. Our first language, the beautiful sounds of which one hears and gets familiar while in the womb, has an important role in shaping our personality, thoughts and life.
Language originates in a specific socio-cultural milieu as the first identity marker. It plays a key role in shaping the personality of an individual, his thought processes and larger view of the life and world around. The language we first learn is that used in the home. Mother is the first to speak to the child and his/ her interlocutor for most of the time. The language used by her is the mother tongue. Importance of mother tongue for initiation into formal education in the context of increasing emphasis on knowledge in the present competitive environment has gained significance.
Unesco rightly says that language is more than a means of communication; It is the very condition of our humanity. Our beliefs, values and identity are embedded in it. Language is the chief means and index of a nation, said Swami Vivekananda.
My campaign for preservation and promotion of mother languages is not based on emotions or sentiments. There is a huge body of research evidence warranting it, given its importance for cognitive development, psychological and personality development, education and learning. Hence, psychologists say it’s important that expressions and vocabulary are chosen with care when we talk to children.
When we speak in first language, a direct connection is established between the heart, brain and tongue. Professor of cognitive electrophysiology Alice Mado Proverbio established how the brain differently absorbs and recalls languages learnt in early childhood and later life. Native languages trigger a series of associations within the brain that show up as increased electrical activity. Our mother tongue is the language we use to think, dream and feel emotion, he said.
Should primary education be in mother tongue or in English? A child is prepared for formal education during the early years. The grandmother’s stories, riddles, folklore are now becoming a thing of the past, sadly. After five years of informal education in first language, would the child be able to cope with formal instruction in a second language all of a sudden?
How to enable first formal learning without the child going through the harrowing experience of ‘cognitive conflict’ which is when a child finds a discrepancy between what he thinks the world should be and what he finds it as. This conflict in the early years of education emanates from the forced situation of learning in a second language. This is better avoided or better calibrated.
Several psychological, social and educational experiments proved that learning through the mother tongue is deeper, faster and more effective (Krishnaji, 1990). Much of a child’s future social and intellectual development hinges on the milestone of mother tongue (Plessis, 2008). Incomplete first language skills often make learning other languages more difficult (Jim Cummins, 2010). Another renowned researcher Jean Piaget stressed that students’ intellectual development in educational setting demands organised curriculum to lead their minds towards equilibration, creativity and knowledge expansion. Cognitive conflict has no place if this is to be ensured.
Children of migrant families are finding themselves at crossroads, being unable to master either the first or the second language they are forced to study in. Gandhiji warned: “If the English educated neglect as they have done and even now continue, as some do, to be ignorant of mother tongue, linguistic starvation will abide.”
Every language spoken in the world represents a special culture, melody, colour and is an asset. Second language learning at an appropriate stage opens a window to the world promoting open minds, better understanding of others, peace and harmony. Multilingualism has definite advantages in the multicultural, diverse and competitive global order. ‘Fostering Multilingualism For Inclusion in Education and Society’ is the theme for this year’s ‘International Mother Languages Day’ tomorrow. Let’s do our bit for it.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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