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The Importance of Mother Tongue

By Ray Young, Head of Languages

For the first few years of my life, I only spoke in Cantonese Chinese, so it was overwhelming to realize that my mother tongue was not going to help me on the first day at school in English. As I struggled to communicate with teachers and other students, I felt isolated and dissociated. I began to understand the importance of acquiring another language.

My experience is a good reminder about how students may feel when they walk into my classroom and are learning to communicate effectively in English. The IB states: “A mother tongue and any other languages used in constructing meaning are intimately connected to a person’s relationship with the world and how they come to feel about that world. Social and emotional conditions for learning that value all languages and cultures and affirm the identity of each learner promote self-esteem and additive bilingualism (where another language and culture does not replace that of the mother tongue).” 

At Branksome Hall Asia, the advantage is that we offer all three IB programs to provide a seamless transition for focused language learning. All students of the IB program study two languages as part of the curriculum. This approach to language learning allows for the strengthening of one’s mother tongue to support the learning of a second language. Learning two languages concurrently enriches them both.

Dr. Jim Cummins states “a cognitively and academically beneficial form of bilingualism can be achieved only on the basis of adequately developed first language skills.” Thus, the strength of your mother tongue is essential for developing proficiency in the learning of English or any other second language. At Branksome Hall Asia, our highly qualified Language Acquisition teachers have the knowledge and strategies to develop English literacy and oracy to meet specific student needs.

Nelson Mandela said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” The IB has taken his comments to heart and recently wrote the following, “The school describes in its language policy the way that the school recognizes multilingualism as a fact, a right and a resource for learning” (Principles into Practice, 2020).

Our Branksome Hall advantage is that we value the richness of every student’s language profile and above all, we recognize that your English language proficiency directly benefits from your strong mother tongue learning.