First Language

Manila Bulletin, August 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

First Language


First language. The term is used to refer to one's native (or main) language, often the language learned in infancy. Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research and Professor of Child Development at Tufts University in the US, told her audience that "whatever the first language is, enrich it to pave the way for easier language acquisition."Dr. Wolf was one of the plenary speakers at the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) 2010 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, last March. In that conference, which was attended by more than 5,000 language experts and educators, she told us that we truly understand a language only when we begin to learn a new one. She added that a brain that transmits messages with the use of two languages is always better than a brain that uses only one.This concept reinforces the new language policy in basic education in the Philippines that endorses the use of multilingualism. Known as Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (or MT-MLE), this language policy strengthens the use of two or more languages for literacy and instruction, according to Dr. Ricardo Nolasco, adviser on multilingual initiatives at the Foundation for Worldwide People Power.Dr. Nolasco explains that everything starts from where the learners are and from what they already know; thus it makes sense to make the beginning learners read and write in their first language (or L1). This first stage becomes the basis for teaching subjects like mathematics, science, health, and social studies in L1. The implementation of the use of L1 as medium of instruction (MoI) in the country's elementary public schools is given in DepEd Order 74 series of 2009, which recommends the use of the vernacular, or whatever the L1 is, from the 1st to the 3rd grades in public schools. However, Filipino/Tagalog and English remain to be offered as subjects.It does not mean, however, that Tagalog or Filipino should be relegated to the background. Neither does this imply that it will play a secondary role to the vernacular that serves as L1. Instead, Filipino should remain as the language of national identity, the language that will unify a people who speak close to 170 local languages.Thus, the L1 of a speech community, either the vernacular or the regional lingua franca, should keep its important role as the medium of instruction for the first three grade levels. After all, these foundational years serve as a critical period for young learners trying to master concepts in the first language before they get exposed to another language, which they are not yet familiar with. …

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