All too often the success of additional language learning is viewed as a subject area where the end product is the successful completion of a test. The reality is, that traditional academic study can not truly prepare you for the challenges of actually having to use the language, or as educators would say, “learning through the language”.
As I recently carried out a professional appraisal of one of our French teachers, I started to realize the importance of applying the French vocabulary the students had learnt. The scenario involved the students designing their own house. The had memorised the vocabulary associated with their house design (ie: fenêtres, portes , balcon for windows, doors and balcony) and then were requested to draw a plan of their house, all the while engaging with the teacher in conversation about the house; how many rooms the house needed, whether the rooftop would be flat etc., and all in French. For the students, the challenge lay not in creating the house (their designs were amazing!), but in how they engaged with the teacher in French about the design of ma maison.
The lesson for me as a language learner is no different than for our students. How often do I actually apply the German that I am learning in my everyday life here in Switzerland? If the example I observed here at school is anything to go by, the course I am doing will mean nothing unless I actually get to use my German.
Don’t forget, this coming week is Francophone week across the globe!
At ISBerne, we find that children who come to school with a strong foundation in their mother tongue (their fist language or home language) develop stronger literacy abilities in the language used at school. When parents or caregivers spend time with their children, telling stories or discussing issues with them, it helps develop the child’s mother tongue vocabulary and concepts. As a result, children come to school better prepared to learn the language of their host school and succeed academically.
It is important to remember that a child connects with his/her parents, family, culture, history, identity and religion through his/her mother tongue. The first language links the child with the culture and society of his/her origins and plays and important role in shaping his/her identity.The mother tongue is one of the most powerful tools used to preserve and convey cultural ties.
Many children of immigrant families, who don’t know their native language well, often face a crisis of identity. Children who are unaware of their culture, their language, and their history can lose confidence in themselves, their family, even their homeland, and will ultimately seek an alternate identity. A child will identify with the language and culture s/he knows best.
On Saturday 21 February, the United Nations invites the world to celebrate the connection of language and culture through International Mother Tongue Day. I invite you to reflect upon the value of language, not just in learning it, but how it enriches your cultural background and the story of who you are. A very interesting presentation by Wade Davis in a TED Talk, exemplifies and elaborates upon this concept in a profound way.