A very effective way of killing a language is to deny it any place in the education system: parents discourage its use at home in favour of more privileged languages for education, causing it to lose significance within the community.
Language is one of the valuable gifts from Allah (SWT) to mankind that is essential for communication, and no one can function without it. The Noble Quran states: “And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. Certainly, in that are signs for those of ‘sound’ knowledge.” (Surah Ar-Rum, 30:22). Language plays a crucial role in our lives. It is the primary means through which we communicate with others and express our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. For children, language is even more critical as it is the foundation of their overall development. A child’s mother tongue or native language is the language they learn from birth, and it has a significant impact on their cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Quranic view of the first language
“And We sent not a Messenger except with the language of his people, in order that he might make (the Message) clear for them” (Surah Ibrahim, 14:4).
The Quran highlights the significance of language in relation to the various nations it references, citing the revelation of four main books to different communities through messengers of Allah (SWT). The detail of these is as follows:
- Tawrat (Old Testament) – This is the revelation that Allah sent to Musa (Moses) (PBUH). It was revealed in the native language of that time called Hebrew.
- Zabur (Psalms) – This is the revelation that Allah sent to Dawood (David) (PBUH). The Holy Scripture was revealed in Aramaic, the first language of the community.
- Injeel (New Testament) – This is the revelation that Allah sent to Issa (Jesus) (PBUH). It was in the Aramaic language, the native language spoken and understood by the Noble Prophet (PBUH) and the people of the times.
- The Scripture of Abraham is also mentioned in the Qur’an. The scrolls of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) may have been revealed in either Akkadian, the language spoken in Ur, or in Phoenician, the language spoken in Canaan. Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) migrated from Ur to Canaan around 1900 BCE. (IslamiCity, 1997).
The mother tongue is the first language that a child learns, and it is the language that they are most comfortable with. When a child is taught in their mother tongue, they have a better understanding of the concepts being taught, which helps them to learn and retain the information better. Moreover, learning in one’s mother tongue makes it easier to learn additional languages later on in life.
One of the most important benefits of learning in one’s mother tongue is that it helps to preserve cultural identity. Language and culture are intertwined, and the mother tongue is an essential aspect of cultural identity. When a child is taught in their mother tongue, they learn about their culture, customs, and traditions, which helps them to connect with their heritage. This, in turn, instills a sense of pride and confidence in the child, which is crucial for their overall well-being.
The mother tongue also plays a crucial role in developing a child’s cognitive skills. Studies have shown that children who are taught in their mother tongue perform better in academic tests and have higher cognitive abilities than those who are not. This is because the mother tongue provides a strong foundation for learning and helps children to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
As well, the mother tongue plays a critical role in developing a child’s emotional and social development. When a child is taught in their mother tongue, they feel more comfortable expressing themselves, which promotes emotional well-being. Moreover, when children are taught in their mother tongue, they feel more connected to their peers and can develop stronger relationships with them.
However, it is worth noting that in today’s increasingly globalized world, there is a growing need for multilingualism. In many countries, there are multiple languages spoken, and learning a second language is often a requirement for higher education or employment opportunities. This has led some to argue that children should be taught in languages other than their mother tongue to prepare them for the future.
While learning additional languages is undoubtedly beneficial, it should not come at the expense of the mother tongue. Research has shown that children who are taught in a language other than their mother tongue can struggle academically and emotionally, leading to feelings of disconnection and even shame towards their cultural identity. Therefore, it is crucial to find a balance between promoting multilingualism and preserving the mother tongue.
Besides, language learning is not a zero-sum game. Children can learn multiple languages simultaneously, and in fact, early exposure to multiple languages has been shown to improve cognitive abilities and language proficiency in the long term. Educators and parents should, therefore, encourage children to learn additional languages while also providing support for the mother tongue. As the German philosopher Goethe stated, “The person who knows only one language does not truly know that language.”
There are several ways in which parents and educators can support the development of a child’s mother tongue. The first step is to ensure that the child is exposed to the language from a young age. Parents should speak to their children in their mother tongue, read books, sing songs, and engage in other activities that promote language development. For children who are living in a multilingual environment, it is also essential to create opportunities for them to interact with others who speak the same language, such as by joining language classes or cultural events.
Schools and educational institutions also have a critical role to play in supporting the mother tongue. Teachers can incorporate the mother tongue into the curriculum by using it as a medium of instruction or teaching it as a subject. This helps to ensure that children are able to develop a strong foundation in their mother tongue and learn about their culture and heritage. Policymakers can support the development of the mother tongue by providing resources and funding for language programs and initiatives. This can include developing textbooks, training teachers, and promoting language preservation efforts. By investing in the mother tongue, policymakers can help to ensure that children are able to develop a strong sense of identity, language proficiency, and academic success.
The author is a researcher, writer and blogger and can be reached at [email protected]