Should we learn in our native languages?

Hello. I’m Arnaud a Rwandan who lives in Cameroon. I say that children who start learning in their native languages rather than French or English are better educated than those who take-off with English and French. Do you agree?

A good example can be the people educated in Eastern African region where the basics are given in Swahili language and those in countries like Rwanda and Burundi and part of Nigeria. I would like to hear what you think about this.

Is it more important that our children learn the big languages like, French, English, Spanish and maybe even Chinese? Or for cultural and educational reasons, should we learn our native language first? Or by doing that, will we reduce the job opportunities our children will have when they are grown up?

Many thanks,
Arnaud Ntirenganya Emmanuel
Rwandan in Cameroon

20 Responses to “Should we learn in our native languages?”

  1. 1 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    March 13, 2008 at 14:04

    Mastering or understanding the basics for example in science subjects in our native languages is a vital take-off of every child

  2. March 13, 2008 at 14:14

    Cameroon is made up of a wide mix of languages and a majority have not been put donw in print like books and other forms of literature. Some of the languages make their appearance only in translated Bibles and other forms of Christian literature. Thus it is not plausible for students to study in their native languages except we develop a scejnario where each village, community or community will have a different curricula as opposed to the other. I fear this may sow the seeds of tribalism.
    Studying in one’s native language to me is therefore plausible only in nations who share a common culture and language.

  3. 3 Dee in Chicago
    March 13, 2008 at 14:29

    Young children are very capable of learning more than one language at a time, so this need not be an either/or issue. That said, believe it is more important to learn a language that will be useful and necessary in the future- so English or French is more important than their native language.

  4. 4 VictorK
    March 13, 2008 at 14:30

    Every country and people should make it a matter of national pride to teach children in their mother tongues.

    It’s grotesque that in probably all of sub-Saharan Africa the primary language of education, at all levels, is that of the former colonial power.

    Language is at the very heart of culture and identity. Teaching in the vernacular, and creating a tradition of vernacular literature (Israel’s comment that in Cameroon some languages only find written expression in translations of the Bible is truly shameful – but it’s the situation in many other African countries besides) ought to be priorities for every African government.

    Nothing can be more important to a people than the preservation and transmission of their inheritance and identity.

  5. 5 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    March 13, 2008 at 14:36

    Hi Israel,
    surely you misunderstood me…I simply say learnind the basics in one’s native language before continuing with English or French etc.

  6. 6 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    March 13, 2008 at 14:40

    Many thanks for the positive and wise comments

  7. March 13, 2008 at 15:54

    If textbooks in all disciplines like science, geography, communication technology etc that are taught in schools could be written in local languages then young children can learn and do better.

    Ben Assopiah
    Tarkwa, Ghana

  8. 8 Will Rhodes
    March 13, 2008 at 16:31

    Over simple answer – yes!

    The international language is, as we know, English and that can be up for change. But we do need to be taught in our native language for many reasons, some of which have been stated above.

  9. 9 carlos King
    March 13, 2008 at 16:37

    Hi Arnaud,

    Thanks for posting this question.

    Here in Jamaica we are also having this debate and there seems to be no immediate solution. We were first colonialized by the Spanish (up-to 1600) and then British (1600 – 1962).

    The African slaves were not permitted to learn to read or write, therefore, in order to communicate across the different tribes they developed their own language with included various African dialect/language, Spanish and English.

    However the only officially recognized language in Jamaica is English the vernacular – Jamaican patois is overlook even though it is spoken by everyone on a daily basis.

    Because of the failure to officially recognize the vernacular, children find it hard to speak english becuase they are not encourage to use patois as the bridge to understanding and speaking English. This has created mass confusion and the use of a lot of broken english in the place of Standard English.

    I find it hard to believe but it is true, many enslaved/colonialized people worldwide are apparently ashamed to speak their vernacular. Apparenlty they don’t think it is inferior to the language of the colonizer. This is really a very sad state of affairs becuase it is having a devastating effect on our children.

    I am/was guilty of forbidding my children from speaking Jamaican patois but I observed that it was affecting their self-confidence because even though I speak Jamaican English they receive most of their instructions and communication at school, home and community in the vernacular. Therefore I have stopped insisting that they speak English but I still communicate to them in English because I think it is much more important that my children be confident and happy than for them to master the speaking of English language.

    If wise and visionary governments/administrations over the years, our country would not be so backward economically and socially because our people would be confident in expressing themselves without being stigmatized as backward/dunce/lower class. What a burden would be lifted here in Jamaica if Jamaican patois was accorded the distinction of official language.

    Carlos, Kingston-Jamaican.

  10. 10 carlos King
    March 13, 2008 at 16:43

    Hi Arnaud,

    Please I should have said: Apparently they think the vernacular is inferior to the language of the colonizer.

  11. 11 Justin from Iowa
    March 13, 2008 at 21:19

    The more languages you know the better off you are, and the earlier you start learning languages the easier they are to learn. Racial/cultural pride is all well and good, but I wish that I’d had more languages than just english taught to me as a child.

  12. March 14, 2008 at 00:45

    Learning to read and write our native languages is useful in communicating about day to day life with others who share the same language. But it is not as useful when it comes to science and mathematics. Hundreds and thousands of scientific terms which are currently in English will have to be translated to native languages. Once people start using native languages for these technical terms there will be a lot of confusion. I think Science and mathematics should remain in the English language.

  13. 13 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    March 14, 2008 at 08:08

    Hi Carlos Kingston,
    many thanks for the reply, you seem positive about the whole issue, I would love many comments like yours. only intellectuals see importance of this for their children..I am very cautious of importance of these modern languages but after we have had those basics in our mother tongues.

  14. 14 arshamsreflection
    March 15, 2008 at 16:38

    To express oneself excellently no other language can be more convenient than one’s own native one although global languages like English may be of great use to him or her for both national and international purposes yet as a second language.

  15. 15 Abi
    March 17, 2008 at 06:21

    Sure, mastering and understanding one’s own native language is fine but it should never be used in teaching science or communication technology as translating the original text books into the native language could lead to confusion

  16. 16 George USA
    March 19, 2008 at 16:33

    I honestly do not know the best for children.

    But as an adult I studied a career taught in Spanish.

    Becoming fluent was pretty easy that way, although I had not studied Spanish before.

    It was a positive experience for me.

  17. 17 Dennis/USA
    May 21, 2008 at 01:33

    I think that we should learn in all languages…

    Dennis**Madrid, United States of America

  18. 18 Ahmad
    June 9, 2008 at 16:18

    I think we have to learn both ,I mean native language and one of national languages like English or french,becuase it’s necessry to communicating with other pleople who don’t know our language ,In this century we have to have realationship with eachother,So we have to learn at least two languages .

  19. February 4, 2009 at 22:01

    It’s interesting, i am a journalist and i was writing an article with the same topic. That of the survival and practical importance of keeping our Native tongues. I come from Tanzania and yes we learn all through primary school in Kiswahili which by the way is not a purely African native language. Rather a Afro-politan language as it emerged from trade on the East African coast over time.

    Anyhow back to kiswahili, when we reach secondary school and beyond we learn everything in English. i can totally identify with Carlos on the confusion this causes with the children of the land. A lot of students end up cramming things not learning and yes their self-confidence is affected as it’s seen to be the height of intelligence to speak in English.

    Now what is to be done well, am still writing the article the imporntant thing is we are all becoming aware that we have a right to our dialects and the small hustle of translation of knowledge from lets say english to Xhosa or Chagga can easily be done and create employment.

    Hope my comment shades some light somewhat. As for me i’ve enjoyed your comments

    Much love

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