Social Question

prasad's avatar

Do you think education should be in your mother tongue?

Asked by prasad (3841points) May 17th, 2012

This question might be more comprehensible for non-English people, but English people are also encouraged to express their opinion.

For someone like me, where there are 4 or 5 languages spoken around, what do you say? My primary education was in my mother tongue. Secondary education was also in my mother tongue; English was a subject introduced then. After that, higher secondary or high school education was in English. And then, engineering was (and is) in English. Yet, mother tongue is mostly used in conversations; English is in academics.

Does learning in your first language strengthen your learning and comprehension? I have been told successful stories of engineers from Europe where they stress on their language.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

23 Answers

prasad's avatar

I think learning in mother tongue does strengthen learning and comprehension. This is my personal opinion. Yet, I would like to keep English in education in today’s global world.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I live in a small part of the US that has a minority who choose to go to school in their mother tongue, Hawaiian. Most learn this only through the elementary school years and then switch to the majority schools that are in English. It is important for this minority to be immersed in their language, because it keeps the culture alive. In my opinion, that is invaluable.

Education is where we are socialized, so the choice of language is an important one. This is a great question.

Bellatrix's avatar

I would agree with @Hawaii_Jake and this is a major debate that continues in Australia. Should Indigenous children be educated in their native languages or English alone or both? In remote areas children may not speak English until they get to school so it is difficult for young children to learn if they have to then study only in English. There is also the argument about protecting Indigenous culture and languages. Prior to colonisation there were over 250 Indigenous languages. As you can see from that link, most of these have now been lost. Some argue that a bi-lingual approach helps to improve attendance rates at school and encourages parents to send their children to school. School attendance is a problem in remote communities.

The counter argument is that to work in most areas of Australian society, they need to be able to speak English fluently. There isn’t much work in remote areas of Australia. If Indigenous Australians want to go to university or to excel academically, they have to be able to communicate to a high level in English.

I think the answer lies in balance. I don’t believe we should force young children to learn totally in English. Yet I do think English needs to be taught and taught effectively. I also think it should gradually become the main language the children learn in. This is an interesting submission to a Senate inquiry about teaching language in remote communities you may find interesting.

rooeytoo's avatar

You don’t say what country you are in but the problem with the aboriginal people in the NT of Australia is that there are very few indigenous who are qualified to teach any subject. There are even less non indigenous who speak any of the indigenous languages. So who will do the teaching in native language? Next there are innumerable remote outstations of very few people, they don’t want the children to go to boarding school, they want education available where they live thus exacerbating the qualified teacher shortage. Many kids don’t go to school no matter who is teaching in whatever language because parents simply don’t see the need for it or don’t care. Teachers themselves seem to be divided on the subject, saying that since the children learn to speak their own language at home and their culture at home, the schools should be teaching english and totaling immersing the children in the language they will have to know if they are ever to obtain employment.

With regard to preserving culture, I have seen so much abuse of all kinds perpetrated and condoned in the name of culture, it makes me sick to my stomach. If one could isolate the desirable aspects of culture and ignore or eliminate that part that advocates forcing 12 year old girls to “marry” old men so they can be protected, botched circumcision on young boys by elders who have done a bit of imbibing before the job, condoning the bashing of disobedient wives, etc. then by all means preserve the good and eliminate the bad. I am a bit jaded because I lived in the midst of it all for so long. Sometimes I think that efforts to preserve a primitive culture does nothing but increase the divide and make it even more difficult for those who want to escape and enter the 21st century and make a real living for themselves and not spend their lives being subsidized by the government.

Kayak8's avatar

I think it really depends on the age of the student. If an American kid is enrolled in a Japanese school (in Japan) from primary grades and speaks both English and Japanese at home that is one thing. It is different for an older kid to have more advanced studies in what is, essentially, a new language.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it’s best to go to Elementary school primarily not in your mother tongue. You learn your first language at home, and if in school you can be immersed in a second language then you are sure to be fully bilingual. There are two schools in the Washington DC area that are not English speaking, and they are public schools. One is French, and one is Spanish. The children still have English class for reading, grammar, and verbal skills, but all other classes are taught in the second language. They go on to English speaking middle schools and high schools.

My niece and nephew are fully bilingual because their first language is Spanish, and their mother has maintained that at home, but they were educated in English, living here in the US.

wundayatta's avatar

Where I live, the state primarily teachers in one language, although they are required to offer instruction in other languages as well, I believe. People who want their children to learn in another language pay for that out of their own pockets.

I think it is Darwinian in some ways. Cultures will find a way to preserve themselves if the cultures are viable. If the people value it, they will find a way to preserve a language. That these cultures are of academic value or even of minor value to the people who inhabit them is not enough, it seems to me, that the public should spend scads of money to try to preserve them.

prasad's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Good point regarding keeping the culture alive; genius solution! I hear shouting here everywhere that our culture is dying, our language is losing, etc. but no one suggests anything!
@Bellatrix Probably, parents of children in remote areas are more comfortable with their native language than English? This may possibly force their children to learn their language first and then English.
@rooeytoo I live in India; and I can hear five languages spoken around me – Marathi, Hindi, Kannad, Urdu, and English. Yes, English has (almost) eliminated such bad things that existed here like you said.
@Kayak8 I overlooked that possibility. Good point.
@JLeslie Yes, that can be done here too. Were that be the case, my English skills could have been much better! But, can that result in children not able to read/write in their native language besides being able to speak? My cousin, who educated in English medium school, cannot read/write the native language, though he can very well speak it.
@marinelife Got the support!
@wundayatta Actually, education in native language is much cheaper than English schools here. And yet, parents now are more inclined to choose English school for their children. Because English is the language that will help him/her in academics or career.

wundayatta's avatar

@prasad I think it is the best situation when people have a choice, and especially if the choice is not that expensive.

JLeslie's avatar

@prasad Well, the children would still be taking English class (what we call Reading in elementary school) like every other student in America. But, all other classes are in Spanish, including Spanish Reading class. In middle school, usually beginning 6th or 7th grade, they would convert to a traditional American school taught in English, and continue their Spanish if they chose to tak one class of Spanish at an advanced level. Those children are more likely to have better pronounciation and more of a true accent as spoken by the teacher. Some sounds are very difficult to pick up as we get older. Like TH is difficult for Spanish speaking people the pronounce, and the sound J makes. But, if the teacher is not a native speaker of the language their accent and pronounciation could be poor, and that would be passed on to the students, but that is a separate problem.

So that example for you would be to be in English Emersion school for primary school, but still have a class for your first language just as you do now for reading and writing. You would be on level in your language. What you would miss is some vocabulary, but minimal at such a young age. Like if you studied science in English you would be learning the scientific terms in English. Math would be English. But, you would easily pick up the terms for secondary school in your language since you would not be very advanced in your studies at the age of 10.

My husband and his siblings started English class in their country the year before kindergarten, and had it every year throughout primary and secondary. Actually my husband lived in the states his first two years of high school, which is 9th and 10th grade, and then back to Mexico for his final two years. He went to the American school in Mexico since he had started high school in America. But, his siblings, who are older, all went to regular Spanish speaking schools, but like I said had English class every year. Their English is very good, but what really made it much better was living in the states.

One of my husband’s cousins still lives in Mexico, but every day her kids cross the border to go to an English speaking American school. They are fully bilingual. (Fully is used to mean speaking, reading, and writing. All aspects of knowing the language. As opposed to bilingual which can imply speaking fluently in both languages, but not necessarily reading and writing).

cazzie's avatar

I don’t think higher education needs to be in one’s mother tongue. English is becoming the language of education. If specialists subject needed to be taught in very specific languages, it would limit the number of teachers (and students). I live in a University city in Europe. Masters and Doctorates are taught in English. Professors come from all over the world. They aren’t expected to speak Norwegian, but they are expected to speak English. (Some are very difficult to understand…gggrrr.) Students come from all over the world to study here and they need a common language and it is English. Our children in Norway are taught English from first grade. (I brought my son up bilingual so he won’t have that hurdle later in life.) More and more studies about how we learn language supports the ‘earlier the better’ with second languages. That being said, there are real efforts to keep Norwegian around and preserved, so, they recognise the need to be international in higher education as well as preserve their native language.

JLeslie's avatar

I wasn’t able to still edit, but wanted to add I think it is important to maintain languages for cultural reasons as @Hawaii_Jake pointed out.

My experience is generally children rarely learn the language of their father if he speaks a language not spoken commonly in the country the family lives. A lot of language is lost because of that in a generation in America. But, if both parents speak a language in addition to English, and use it at home, the child will be bilingual. The child usually picks up the mother’s langauge, even if the father does not speak it.

harple's avatar

I’m (to all intents and purposes) English, and my family are all English speakers, but I grew up (from the age of 3) in Wales, and went to a Welsh play school, then a Welsh Primary School, where I was taught every subject in Welsh, and any English spoken was not at all condoned. (Ironically, considering the past history of the Welsh Not, which was one of the things we learnt about at school!)

So, from the age of 3 to 11 I received all my education in Welsh, but spoke only English at home. When it came time to transfer to Secondary School, my parents and I decided that it would be better to not have to think in Welsh when learning new things (particularly technical things too, like in Science or Geography). We felt like it would be an additional hurdle that wasn’t necessary. I did continue to learn Welsh at Secondary School, but in the same way as we also learnt French and German.

I’m still just about bilingual (I hardly ever have a need to use my Welsh now, but it’s mostly still there – I make the effort to think in Welsh from time to time, and occasionally watch the Welsh channel on the telly).

When I was younger, it didn’t phase me at all – although I did use the dictionary a lot. There were only a few of us there who didn’t also speak Welsh at home, and it was noticeable that these were the people who became my friends. I’m glad that I didn’t continue in Welsh at a higher level though – I think it would have really hindered me. I suppose it may, conversely, have made me grow a higher intellect by having to think in a language that was not my mother tongue, but I shall never know.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I believe education should be taught in the established national language. Several friend of mine grew up in other countries where many languages are spoken regularly, even blended but they still had a national language, sometimes called the business language.

augustlan's avatar

I like a blended approach, starting in elementary school. In the beginning, most things would be taught in the native language but English would always be present, too. As the kids get older, the balance would shift to most things taught in English, with the native language always being present in some way, too.

Also, [mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

JLeslie's avatar

I wanted to make sure that it was understood that when I say elementary school not taught in the mother tongue, I mean of the child, not of the country, I think all children should be educated to be fully functional in the prevailing language of the country.

cazzie's avatar

We have a program here in Norway that might surprise some people. Children from other countries have a right to classes in their own language. And by that, I mean, they will go to a Norwegian school and all classes are taught in Norwegian, BUT, they are offered a class to learn to read and write and speak in their mother-tongue. So, if both parents are German, the kid gets a class so many times a week to learn German properly.

In New Zealand, the Maori language experienced a renaissance in the 80’s with full immersion day care and kindergarten and it did wonders for the kids self esteem and continued academic success.

Language has more function in our lives than just a way to communicate. Language is culture. I feel completely stupid for having the last name I have and I can’t speak French and later finding out that it was lost in my family only a generation before I was born…. it was disappointing. Sure, I probably would have learned a very strange form of old French, but at least I would have been brought up with a second language and closer ties to my heritage.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie I think in the end we are all saying it is good to be multilingual, to understand the standard language of the country we live in, and to hold onto the language of our family. In America the trend years ago was to let go of the mother tongue as immigrants came here, which many people feel was an unfortunate trend. The new immigrants tend to hold onto their language, but what we are lacking in our education system over here is children born to English only speaking parents don’t have great options to learn a second language fluently. There are a few exceptions, like the one I mentioned in my first answer. In my city a second language isn’t even offered until high school, and the children are rarely exposed to a second language in general. We do have ESL help for kids.

In your school system what happens if a child speaks a language not often spoken in Norway? There wouldn’t be a class for only one or two children would there?

I would assume in Norway most people are at least bilingual, and so the entire feeling regarding second languages is different. Some parts of the US the people still get pissed if the people at the table next to them are speaking a different language. It’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t say the majority feel that way, but too many.

cazzie's avatar

@JLeslie They do their best to find teachers and usually they are other immigrants who put up their hand to say, ‘I’ll do it.’ which is great. Some kids who don’t live in larger city centres are taught via correspondence/internet. It depends on how hard the parents pursue it as well. Some just say… ‘Oh well’ if it isn’t offered upfront and then the kid doesn’t get the class, but the point is that they have a RIGHT to it and by hook or by crook, the school/kommune has to find a way to provide it.

The older people are not bi-lingual and workplaces and stores pretty much insist that you speak Norwegian. I remember my first week here and I had to go to the hospital for some antibiotics. I didn’t have a GP appointed to me yet. I thought, and other people thought, speaking English would be fine because those people are educated,... blah blah… WRONG. If I had been German, I would have been better off. (apparently, many here get their medical training in Germany, in German. German also used to be the language of Engineering here in Europe, but that changed to English thanks to silicon valley) Anyway, the nurse finally resorted to some Latin terms, which I understood. Everyone here still needs to at least understand Norwegian to function on a daily basis, and if you want citizenship so you can vote in National elections, you need to have taken a test and proven your competency in both verbal and written Norwegian.

Norwegian classes are given to asylum seekers for free. Other immigrants now need to pay for them. (Not the case when I got here 10 years ago. My classes were free back then.) I wish I could have stayed in my Norwegian class longer. It was brilliant being with such an amazing mixed group of people every day.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie Interesting. I can’t see America ever making education in a mother tongue a “right.” But, I like the idea of offering a class in a students first language in school if it is not the standard language spoken in the country. I had a Japanese friend when I was very young who went to Saturday school in her language, because her parents were only living here temporarily. I felt bad for her at the time. I assume that is still done? But, that is done privately anyway.

prasad's avatar

@JLeslie That looks like a good balance of embracing English without let going of Spanish altogether. I didn’t know there are other languages in education in the US. I was under impression that it is wholly English.
@cazzie Fine! I guess, Europe is ideal place for attaining balance of their native language along with English.
@harple Interesting to know there are encounters like that you said in the land of English! Your story is too interesting. Bilingual people seem more conspicuous now!
@Neizvestnaya Actually, in India national language (Hindi) is quite different from what is supposed business language (English).
@augustlan That’s the approach Indians shall follow here! And, this is first ever “Question of the Day”! I would have never known it were it not for you to point it out! Thanks!
@JLeslie and @cazzie Informative discussion! I got to learn many new things there about what goes in other countries!

Thanks all of you for sharing your invaluable opinions! And to Fluther too…for I can (virtually) meet people from different countries and cultures!

JLeslie's avatar

@prasad It is very very few schools that teach in other languages. The two public schools I mentioned in the DC area, that is two in an area of about 6 million people. Many cities, regions, even states, don’t have an offering like that at all.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther