International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is a worldwide annual observance held on February 21 to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. Mother Language Day is part of a broader initiative “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world “as adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 16, 2007, in UN resolution 61/266.
It’s well known that a strong mother tongue foundation equips children with the skills they need to learn additional languages, allowing them to transfer their understanding of the structure of language to several new languages. The intuitive understanding of grammar that develops when children learn their first language can easily be passed on to other languages.
Language and mother tongue also play a huge role in the development of personal, social and cultural identity. Children with a strong foundation in their first language often display a deeper understanding of themselves and their place within society, along with an increased sense of wellbeing and confidence. Naturally, this flows down into every aspect of their lives, including their academic achievement.
There are certain distinct advantages of learning in the mother tongue from a younger age. Using the mother tongue helps a child develop their critical thinking and literacy skills. Research shows that children learning in mother tongue adopt a better understanding of the curriculum and skills learned in mother tongue do not have to be re-taught when the child transfers to a second language.
Languages are the most important way of keeping our culture alive. Often the direct translation of one language to another might not carry the same essence as it is in the source language. Thus, the best way to thoroughly know about a culture is to know the language. Mother tongue helps us stay connected to our culture and our roots.
Children learning in their mother tongue enjoy school more and learn faster due to feeling comfortable in their environment. Self-esteem is higher for children learning in mother tongue and parent-child interaction increases as the parent can assist with homework.
Mother tongue has a huge positive influence in defining the personality of an individual, however, the medium of education which is usually English also encourages parents to speak to their children in their second language. Thus, this leads to confusion in the minds of the children and hence, they face difficulties in mastering both first and second language.
As the child starts hearing the mother tongue right after being born and his or her thought process works in that language. So, learning in your mother tongue also is crucial in enhancing other skills such as critical thinking, skills to learn a second language and literacy skills. Thus, we can say that the mother tongue can be used as an effective tool for learning.
In Assam, except Jatiya Vidyalaya, there is not much alternative who are providing quality education in Assamese language. Majorly, the responsibility lies with government schools for imparting education in Assamese but a visible challenge before all such government schools are the mushroom growth of English medium schools in the State.
This apart, most of the guardians want to send their kids to English medium schools that have better discipline, punctuality and teaching, comparatively. There is a common perception that government schools lack regularity in taking classes, teachers’ attendance etc and therefore, those who cannot afford to send their wards to private schools are forced to opt for government schools.
Moreover, the government schools which are situated in urban areas have more teachers than required while schools in far-flung and remote areas suffer from lack of teachers, as many are not willing to serve there. If the government schools are to survive, they need to compete with their private counterparts on quality education.
As the Assamese society now faces the challenge of keeping its language and culture alive and thriving in view of the English focussed education system, can we, then, think about some innovative ways to make learning in mother tongue fun and enjoyable? These days we see kids glued to mobiles, laptops and cartoons on TV. But there is not much content to be found in local language and available stuff’s quality leave much to be desired which cannot attract the children.
The 90’s kids can still recall how Tinkle, a cartoon magazine, used to be the staple entertainment source apart from giving the scope to learn newer things in a fun way. Along with other regional languages, Tinkle was published in Assamese as well and it provided wholesome ‘edutainment’ to a generation of youngsters in their own mother tongue.
But due to shrinking in the number of Assamese medium schools, there were not many takers for Assamese Tinkles as kids now read less and those who do, go for English Tinkles due to their inability to read or write in their mother tongue. Eventually, Assamese Tinkles ceased to exist.
We must look at how kids these days are becoming proficient in Hindi by watching cartoon series like Chota Bheem or Motu Potlu and even English cartoons dubbed in Hindi. Like in the Southern States, we must go for dubbing popular cartoon series apart from developing our own indigenous animated content based on folktales like Burhi Aair Sadhu.
Keeping children away from mobiles and TV these days has become a herculean task for the parents and guardians. But this way, we can safely allow the children to watch cartoons as they will learn things in their own mother tongue without any coercion and in fact, they would enjoy the whole process. Making Assamese relevant through out-of-the-box thinking is the need of the hour.
Moreover, in today’s time and day when the computer plays an integral part in day-to-day transactions, the inclusion of Assamese script as a separate entity in Unicode is of paramount importance. Till now, the Assamese script has been labeled and included under the Bengali script by Unicode Consortium. Sustained efforts in this regard have been made by various stakeholders and they are likely to bear fruit in the coming days. Digital identities of languages across the world are best legitimised by the Unicode – a computing industry standard where characters of different writing systems are digitized and identified under separate charts made by the Unicode Standard Consortium.
There cannot be a more pertinent and timely statement than what Vice President of India M Venkaiah Naidu remarked while inaugurating the 21st North East Book Fair at Guwahati.
“Mother tongue is like our eyesight and other languages are like spectacles that improve the vision. Book reading, on the other hand, makes us farsighted, widening our horizon,” he said while strongly pitching for giving adequate emphasis on practicing and promoting one’s own language.
Swakkhyar Deka is serving as a Liaison Officer in the Information & Public Relations Dept. Govt of Assam
The views expressed by the writer are personal and may not in any way represent those of TIME8.