Why Mother Tongue Education?

Just imagine it’s your first day at school and the teachers speak an unfamiliar language and learning materials are in a foreign language. Just imagine how difficult it would be to stay motivated and keep up. Would this seem fair to you? Does this represent equality of opportunity to you?

Clearly, not. And yet, this is reality for children in every corner of the world.

Worldwide there are some 7000 mother tongues. While the UN has encouraged mother tongue instruction since the 1950s, implementation is rare. The result is lost opportunities, wasted talent, marginalisation, exploitation, ignorance, as well as massive and growing inequality.

The result is a systematic human rights failure. Generations of people grow up failed by their education systems from day one.
A failure of epic proportions, hundreds of millions of children cheated daily. Going back generations and likely to continue unabated unless we act now.

Children learn best in their mother tongue. Children’s ability to learn a second (official) language does not suffer. In fact literacy in a mother tongue lays the cognitive and linguistic foundation for learning new languages.

Learning in their mother tongue during primary and secondary school, children become literate in the official language quickly, emerging as fully bi/multilingual learners in secondary school. More importantly their self-confidence grows, they remain interested in learning, they stay in school longer, and stand a greater chance of fulfilling their educational potential. Enabling them to make greater contributions to the society in which they live.

Research has shown that six to eight years of mother tongue education is required.

The first teachers are actually the family. There is much that can be done to encourage mother tongue education at home.

None of this insight is new, and yet globally there is abject failure in policy-making, practice and outcomes.

For classrooms where many different languages are spoken, teachers can use translanguaging as a pedagogic strategy to build on the children’s home languages, even when the teacher does not speak all the languages herself.

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South Africa: Sink or Swim: Navigating Language in the Classroom

UNESCO: Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education A Key to Quality Education


France: Translanguaging for Multilingual Classrooms



Belize: Strengthening Indigenous Youth Education

Ecuador: Bilingual Intercultural Education


Languages Matter!