Why we do it
Learning in the home language is good for children.
Would you ask a young child to carry two jerry cans of water at once? No. Why then, do we expect children starting school to learn two very difficult tasks at the same time: learning to read and write and learning a foreign language like English? It’s not surprising that many pupils fail to master either task.
Learning to read and write is a heavy task for a P1 child to carry. Better to give pupils the opportunity to attempt this task in a language they know and understand. Once they’ve mastered it, then they can go back and pick up the next heavy task: learning a foreign language like English or Kiswahili. The good news is that literacy skills only need to be mastered once. A child can use the knowledge they have of their home language to learn to read and write in English or any other language much more quickly.
It’s easier to learn to read and write African languages.
Most African languages, because the orthographies have been created in recent time,
have transparent orthographies. This means that the sound system is standardized. In
Lëblaŋo, for example, there is one - and only one - symbol for every sound.
The orthography for the English language, by comparison, is a mess. George Bernard Shaw’s observation about the English sound system summarizes things nicely: How you ought properly to spell ‘fish’ in English- ‘ghoti’ (‘gh’ as in ‘laugh,’ ‘o’ as in ‘women,’ and ‘ti’ as in ‘dictionary’).
Ugandan orthographies need protection and development.
Over half of Uganda’s languages have either an inadequate or non-existent orthography. Languages that can’t be written down are at a high risk of disappearing over time. Mango Tree wants to see African cultures thrive in the 21st century. Language is the vessel for transmitting culture from one generation to the next. If African languages don’t become institutionalized through a country’s education system, they are likely to be endangered. We want to create a successful mother tongue-based early literacy model so that children will grow up to be literate adults who will demand more literature in their home language.
More on mother-tongue literacy:
- Steps Towards Learning: A guide to overcoming the language barriers in children’s education. Helen Pinnock. Save the Children. 2009.
- Early Reading: Igniting education for all. Amber Gove and Peter Cvelich, Early Grade Learning Community of Practice. 2011.
- Language and Education: The missing link (How the language used in schools threatens the achievements of education for all). Helen Pinnock. CfBT and Save the Children. 2009.
Africa's lingusitic heritage is under threat.
“The pace of language extinction we're seeing is unprecedented in human history. It is happening faster than the extinction of flora and fauna. More than 40% of the world's languages could be considered endangered, compared with 8% of plants and 18% of animals.”
– K. David Harrison
When Languages Die