The beauty of your mother tongue
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The beauty of your mother tongue

Not only are children cognitively prepared to learn more than one language at a time, they also have the capacity to do so. Lindsey Dudgeon, coordinator of the after school mother tongue classes, had the pleasure to work with Professor Fred Genesee at the 2019 Multilingual Learning Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) in London.

By Lindsey Dudgeon, classroom teacher 2B and after school mother tongue clubs coordinator

“Don’t speak your mother tongue in public” or “What language do you speak? It sounds weird,” are some of the comments I am sure many of us have heard at some stage. This is a real shame, as in studies over the years, great emphasis has been placed on the advantages of bilingualism and the positive effects on children and society at large.

Nurturing environment

To tackle any negative attitudes towards speaking and learning your own language it is important for both parents and teachers to create a nurturing environment for children to use their language. It is also necessary to create an environment where different languages are accepted because to interact with a new language also means to interact with that culture. We would not be able to have access to the culture without the language because of the close connection that the two have.

I loved being part of the ECIS conference, entitled Unity through Multilingualism: Growing Home, Host, and Instructional Languages. It was wonderful to encounter professor Fred Genesee, who has spent many years researching bilingual acquisition. He suggests that differences in the rate that children learn a new language are linked to: initial age exposure, amount of exposure, the quality of exposure, the continuity of exposure, cross-linguistic differences and socio-cultural influences.

Language acquisition journeys

Studies show that bilinguals have a better ability to communicate, higher levels of first language proficiency, lower absentee and failure rates and express higher aspirations to go on to study further. The advantages, of course, depend on high levels of proficiency and use in both languages.

We are lucky enough at ISUtrecht to have the privilege of accessing a variety of cultures and languages and it is important that we provide our students both in school and at home with ample opportunity to express themselves in their home language(s) as well as their host language and language of instruction. We as teachers and parents could also try and learn a new language as this really helps our understanding of our child(ren)’s and students’ language acquisition journeys.

Look past the myths

I found it really interesting to find out that Genesee’s research over the years also shows that all adults and children have the ability to become bilingual and that children who have autism and other developmental language disorders can acquire the same level of bilingualism as those who do not have these difficulties.

I would like to encourage parents and children to look past the myths they may have about bilingualism and prejudices of society and to learn their mother tongue and culture. At school we offer a wide variety of mother tongue clubs for children to enroll in. If your home language is not offered, I would love to hear from you and maybe together we could explore the option of starting a new language club.