Dossier - The mother-tongue dilemma
Studies show that we learn better in our mother tongue. But then it has to be taught in school, which is not the case of all minority languages. More convinced than ever of the value of multilingualism, certain countries are trying to promote learning in a number of languages. However, the political and economic obstacles are enormous.
Many were outraged in 1998 when Californian voters, by a 61% majority, imposed English as the state’s sole language in publicly-funded schools despite opposition from a coalition of civil liberties organizations.
Approval by referendum of Proposition 227, as it was called, meant resident foreign-born children, mostly Spanish-speaking, could no longer be taught in their own language. Instead, they would have an intensive one-year course in English and then enter the general school system. The move was watched closely nationwide because 3.4 million children in the United States either speak English badly or not at all.
The episode was not trivial. First of all, it showed the passions that anything to do with language stirs up. It also reversed a decades-long trend towards acceptance of the mother tongue and, more broadly, the benefits of multilingualism.
“Teachers have known for years the value of teaching children in their mother tongue,” says Nadine Dutcher, a consultant with the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington D.C.
Read the full article, UNESCO's Education Today Newsletter