Muharram Aghazadeh once stated in an article on Asr Iran website: Learning another language is like a new window into looking at and giving meaning to life, but in comparison with other languages, the mother tongue is the original window itself.
To give up one’s mother tongue under the pretext of either learning an official (not national) language or the instruction language of school is clutching at straws. Evidence of such a claim can be found in the words of Nelson Mandela. He stated: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, those words goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’’
Experience has shown that people are never dissatisfied with regards to reaching out to someone who speaks their mother tongue. That is why everyone, wherever they are, try to find their co-linguist. Those who claim that empathy is better than speaking the same language by quoting Mevlana do not say it in vain.
It is important however to note that Mevlana’s views were not to diminish the value of the mother tongue. Citing the importance of empathy, therefore, is not a good prelude for excluding the importance of mother tongue.
In addition to the right to education itself, education must be appropriate and proportionate. One of the appropriate ways to adapt education is education in the mother tongue. Failure to provide education in the mother tongue means a failure in ensuring equal opportunities with regards to education. A student whose mother tongue is Persian and education is provided in his language has greater opportunities to learn than a student whose language is Kurdish or Turkmen. Education that is not provided in the student’s mother tongue exposes him or her to many educational and social ills. Governments that ignore the right to learn in one’s mother tongue clearly provide unequal educational opportunities. They make the rich richer.
Reasons for emphasizing learning in the mother tongue:
1. The mother tongue is a prerequisite for emotional and mental development. The children’s first conceptualizations of themselves and the world around them are formed on the basis of their mother tongue. In the same way, the children express their first emotional and cognitive experiences of the world in their mother tongue. Thus, based on the views of developmental, cognitive, and constructivist psychologists, it can be said that the basic foundations and structures of each person’s mind are made with the linguistic interests of the mother and secondarily of the family in which the child is born in to. For people all over the world, no matter where they are from and to whatever origin they belong to, and no matter how many languages they speak, their mother tongue is of paramount importance to them. The experience of worshiping and holding worship and ritual ceremonies anywhere in the world confirms that people prefer to express their deepest emotions and feelings in their mother tongue. Accordingly, for the people, the best songs, lullabies, mourning songs and pieces of advice and proverbs are those provided in their mother tongue.
2. Mother tongue is the language of the heart and mind. When a person speaks his/her mother tongue, a direct connection is established between their heart, brain and tongue. Speaking in our mother tongue gives us courage. People are as afraid of speaking another language as they are of illiteracy. In a study of simultaneous Italian translators who were fluent in both Italian and English, two categories of words were shown (English and Italian). Comparison of the obtained data showed that the research participants performed better in recognizing and responding to Italian words than in recognizing and responding to English words. Professor Alice Mado Proverbio, a professor of cognitive electrophysiology (at the University of Milano-Bicocca), attributes such a result to what she has learned from her mother tongue.
3. Native language, as an indicator for cultural identity. Children communicate with their parents, family, relatives, culture, history, identity and religion using their mother tongue. The mother tongue connects the children with the culture of the community from which they are emerged and whose identity is formed.
The mother tongue is an excellent tool for transmitting culture and preserving cultural interests. A child who is unaware of their culture and history, wherever they are in the world, will never live as boldly in their homeland or place of residence. Everyone stands long with their language and culture and feels proud. The child is cut from his mother tongue like a flower with no roots that is placed in a pot of water. Ignoring the mother tongue of children and imposing a language as a national language, which is extremely wrong, will only weaken the individual, ethnic and national identity. The official language or school language is not the national language. Everyone’s mother tongue is their national language. Persian is the official and educational language of Iran and is not the national language. Seventy-five languages and even more are spoken in Iran they are all national languages.
4. Mother tongue is the basis for learning other languages. Professor Jim Cummins believes that for children who attend school with a strong background in their mother tongue, the level of their mother tongue will enable them to learn school language skills better and faster. It is not recommended that children learn the language of the school before starting school, but that parents and relatives of the child share stories in their mother tongue before they enter school. Hence, the existence of various printed sources in the child’s mother tongue is vital. Preschool storytelling, while growing and deepening the roots of the mother tongue, help to establish cultural identity and preserve the core of culture. Children with a rich background in their mother tongue show greater academic achievement than their peers.
The ability to speak another language owes itself to the ability to learn in one’s mother tongue. A child who is familiar with the subtleties of his or her mother tongue, will try to find a way to learn another language with higher meta-cognitive skills. Such a conscious effort will bring better results for the learner of a language other than the mother tongue.
Language skills are transferable, contrary to the view of those who find mother tongue impedes learning the language of instruction and insist that the child should learn school language before school. This means that if a learner in the first language is able to learn the second language, he/she will benefit from what he/she has learned in the first language.
The experience and research of American and European countries which host immigrant communities demonstrates that children do not have major difficulties in learning the language of instruction, and general language. In these countries, the emphasis is more on learning the school language, and the focus is on not forgetting the mother tongue. The main reason is that they have discovered from experience that children are not harmed in terms of learning the language of the school, but that the serious harm is caused by the severance of the child’s linguistic connection with his/her family and national culture.
What to do ?
1. Fulfillment of legal and national obligations to create opportunities for basic mother tongue learning before school and at school.
2. Pay the cost of non-provision of education in the mother tongue or pay the cost of educational inequality. The government should pay for mother tongue education for students who are deprived of mother tongue education.
3. Financial and institutional support for writers of endangered languages. Part of the cost of educational inequality can be offset by support for authors who produce texts in their native languages.
4. Allocation of subsidies to support special publications in national minority languages.
5. Creating cultural centers of the mother tongue and their material, financial and spiritual support.
6. Support Internet networks, NGOs active in promoting national / mother tongues.
7. Launching and supporting radio networks in national languages.
8. Creating an alternative learning opportunity to learn school lessons in the mother tongue.