Author: Dörthe Bühmann and Barbara Trudell
Full Citation: Buhmann, D. & Trudell. B. (2008). Mother tongue matters: Local language as a key to effective learning. Paris: UNESCO
Overview: Several concerns converge on the issue of using local or minority languages in formal education. One of these has to do with increasing awareness of the value of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Another concern has to do with the commitment of the world’s nations to the goals of Education for All (EFA) and the limited likelihood that these goals will be realized by 2015 or, indeed, at all. A third concern, related to the second, is clear at local and national levels when communities, parents, local education officers and national authorities recognize that the longstanding language-in-education policies they have been relying on to usher in economic and social progress have simply not worked. Each of these concerns can be addressed in some measure by explicitly including local languages in formal education systems. The research evidence today clearly shows that using the learners’ mother tongue is crucial to effective learning. However, the prevalence of globalization and democratic ideals demonstrates that students must be proficient in international and regional languages to gain access to wider society and to participate meaningfully in their world. The four case studies in this report demonstrate the potential and challenges of mother-tongue-based bilingual education and provide valuable insights into the implications of the various education choices, demonstrating a number of important lessons for those considering mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education programmes.
- The evidence is clear: mother-tongue-based bilingual education significantly enhances the learning outcomes of students from minority language communities. Moreover, when mother-tongue bilingual education programmes are developed in a manner that involves community members in some significant way and explicitly addresses community concerns, these programmes also promote the identification of the minority community with the formal education process.
- The parameters that shape a bilingual education programme include the availability of resources, its pedagogical and social goals, and the political environment in which it is to be implemented.
- It is also clear that successful models of bilingual education require the collaboration of more than one or two actors. Development of the language itself, of curricular materials, teacher training, advocacy with the community and financial support all imply a range of participants in the process. For this reason, any government planning to establish a mother-tongue bilingual education programme would do well to aim for the involvement of multiple partners in ensuring its success.
- As complex an undertaking as such a programme can be, these four case studies show that, with commitment and careful planning, it is possible for any nation to provide higher quality learning outcomes for its minority language students through mother-tongue bilingual education.