Mother Tongue, Not English, Should Be First Language at School

Cape Times (South Africa), January 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Mother Tongue, Not English, Should Be First Language at School


Government authorities, particularly the Minister of Basic Education, has at last indirectly realised, or has stopped ignoring or being quiet about, the fact that the language that is used as the medium of instruction in South Africa is a problem for its non-mother-tongue speakers who are the majority in South Africa.

A statement that the poor matric results are due to a poor command of English is like admitting that English is not an ideal language for tuition in South Africa.

The minister and other education officials have further made statements that contradict our constitution by backing monolingualism (in favour of English) rather than multilingualism through the promotion of the previously marginalised languages that were granted the official status equal to that of English.

Our education system is now being encouraged to be more English and that is taking us back, more than 30 years back.

The statement by our Minister of Basic Education that "we will still want schools to offer mother-tongue instruction, but we want to encourage them to teach more English" is very ambiguous from the linguistic point of view. All that is needed for our school system is mother-tongue instruction with good English teaching, not the other way round.

If learners have good academic language skills in their first language it becomes easy for them to achieve good academic language skills in a second language, which is English in this context.

It is further argued by the education officials that non-mother tongue speakers of English should be introduced to the medium of English from grade R, saying that will improve their English language skills.

That is not the way to go; it will make things worse instead.

It has long been known through research, and linguistically accepted, that a child needs academic language skills in their first language before they are able to grasp such a skill in a second language.

And for this skill to be achieved one needs to be taught in their mother tongue for the first six years of basic primary education at least before switching to a second-language medium. …

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Mother Tongue, Not English, Should Be First Language at School
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