By David Olusi
â€œMukosa lugha, na mukosa mila ni mtumwa.â€ It is through language that we develop our thoughts, shape our experience, explore our customs, structure our community, construct our laws, articulate our values and give expression to our hopes and ideas.
Mother Tongue is a common language that is freely and comfortably spoken by adult generation both at home and outside to their successors in a community and reflect oneâ€™s culture and ethnic backgrounds. It is the means by which different groups within the society maintain their identities.
They do this by using the language in a way which is characteristic of their group and by which they can be identified. Within a multicultural society such as Kenya there exist many subgroups that express their distinctiveness by particular forms of language freely and commonly used in their communities.
Encouraging young children to learn their Mother Tongue would help them to develop confidence, self-esteem and their unique identity within a multicultural society. It will also provide answers to many of their questions such as; why I have black or brown skin? In an increasingly multi-cultural society, the teaching of mother tongue in schools cannot be isolated from the study of the culture of the particular groups. Culture and traditions essentially go hand in hand with language.
REASONS FOR LEARNING A MOTHER TONGUE
By participation in activities organised around the use of the mother tongue, learners will acquire communication skills in the language that will enable them to widen their networks of interpersonal relations. It will enable the learners to use their mother tongue to establish and maintain good relationships with family members (especially grandparents) and relatives.
2. CULTURAL IDENTITY
Learners will develop an understanding of the culture of the mother tongue language and they can use it as base for comparison with other cultures. They will thus develop an appreciation of the validity of different ways of perceiving and encoding experiences and of organising interpersonal relations to reach a deeper appreciation of their own personal identity and values.
Through mother tongue children learn the everyday life patterns of their contemporary age-group, cultural traditional social conventions, historical roots, relationships with other cultures, cultural achievements, current events and regional and geographical concepts, historical evidence of civilisation in different countries including their own. The children who have a cultural identity learn to stand the pressure from peer group of different cultures in schools, work places and society.
3. CULTURAL HERITAGE
Languages are a means of transmitting the cultural traditions of ethnic groups to the second and later generations. Therefore, by learning the mother tongue it will prevent total disappearance of certain language and cultures in the world.
The children will gain knowledge and understanding of a range of subject matter related to their needs, interest and aspirations, as well as to other areas of their formal learning.
4. BENEFITS TO THE PERSON
The learning of mother tongue will provide an individual the right to study his/her mother tongue and culture. This will also preserve family bonds and lessening of cultural conflicts between generations. Learning mother tongue may be an avenue for occupation of translator, interpreter, or similar occupational pursuit, as well as useful in trade and commerce. Bilingualism assists the childâ€™s general intellectual and conceptual development as well.
5. BENEFITS TO THE KENYAN SOCIETY
Learning mother tongue is a means of increasing appreciation of the multi-cultural nature of the present Kenyan society, and maintains its linguistic and cultural diversity.
The objective of learning mother tongue should be to promote, foster and propagate the cultural heritage, within the framework of multiculturalism with a view to achieve the goal â€œunity in diversityâ€ in a more cohesive, equitable and harmonious Kenya. However, there are several issues and drawbacks that need addressing when teaching mother tongue in an adopted country.
The great and the most powerful gift a parent can give their child is to pass their language and their culture.
The writer,Rev. Olusi David, a Kenyan Priest working in the Archdiocese of Rome, is an expert in situational ethics in matters of justice.