How Children Learn Best

“Children who start off learning to read and write in their mother tongue do better in school. Literacy programs in mother languages bring learners the self confidence they need to participate in their communities and make informed choices.” — Irina Bokova,  UNESCO Director-General (UNESCO video, Language Matters)

The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day (February 21, 2016) is Quality Education, Language(s) of Instruction and Learning Outcomes. We join with UNESCO and others to not only celebrate the more than 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, but to reaffirm our commitment to promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE).

We at SIL LEAD believe that children learn best in a language they understand. They become proficient readers more quickly when learning in the language they speak at home than when using a language that is only used in school. Children also learn other subject matters better when they do not have to simultaneously decipher a new language. A strong foundation of reading and learning in the mother tongue even improves acquisition of second language literacy and fluency. All of this contributes to a student's long-term success.

SIL LEAD is committed to doing all that we can to promote mother tongue-based reading and learning. We are currently involved in MTB-MLE programs in Ethiopia, Nepal, and Uganda as well as a number of smaller projects. With the support of private donors, SIL LEAD is also providing scholarships to indigenous teachers in Peru who are on the front lines of teaching children in their mother tongue. And we continue to seek new opportunities where we can contribute further to promoting and developing multilingual education.

Our consultants see first hand the benefits of local teachers being equipped with quality mother tongue classroom materials.

According to Carolyn Adger, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Linguistics and SIL LEAD consultant, “Research shows the value of teaching children to read in their mother tongue. Less recognized is the systemic value of preparing materials for mother tongue literacy.”

Dr. Adger recalls from her time in Uganda last year as an SIL LEAD Consultant that, “a member of the Grade 3 Runyoro Rutooro writing team in Uganda reported that when she finally saw the printed pupil book and teacher guide that her team had produced, she was overwhelmed with pride in what we cherished most: the stories that resulted from their six weeks of enormous work writing instructional materials.” When the teachers are trained on using the materials they produced, and Dr Adger said, "It’s my prayer that they too fall in love with this material."

Dr. Adger goes on to note that, “As a teachers college instructor and administrator, this team member will be preparing teachers and collaborating with colleagues and other speakers of her language for years. Each one who participates in planning, preparing, and using high quality mother tongue materials is a potential link in sustaining the mother tongue literacy network that nurtures learners.”

We are grateful for Dr. Adger and more than 50 other consultants who work with SIL LEAD to help children around the world to learn in their mother tongue.