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Does mother tongue enable deeper understanding of concepts?

– Neelima Kamrah, principal, KIIT World School

The proposal of the National Education Policy to promote teaching and learning in the mother tongue is a particularly bold move. The introduction of the mother tongue will encourage a child to go to school with enthusiasm. The mother tongue is not just a language but a sense of belonging and valuing it can aid in fostering respect for one’s culture and heritage. The NEP’s move will definitely help to highlight the importance of our Indian languages and perhaps, also dilute the importance of English. Being bilingual will also open up social and cultural opportunities for students and help them develop new perspectives.

NEP 2020 is exactly in line with Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of  ‘basic education’. Gandhi ji said that “school must be an extension of home. There must be concordance between the impressions which a child gathers at home and at school, if the best results are to be obtained. Like we cannot properly play a veena without a plectrum or a drum without its sticks, similarly mother tongue is essential for a deeper understanding of concepts. We can only achieve a natural flow of thoughts through our mother tongue only”.

Gandhi ji said “I must cling to my mother tongue as to my mother’s breast, in spite of its shortcomings. It alone can give me the life-giving milk” (Harijan, 1946). Language holds the key to understanding and without it any concept taught is meaningless. One can master a concept only if one has a strong hold on the language it is presented in and there is no language more conductive than one’s mother tongue for learning. It has been proven time and again through research that students who study in their mother tongue find it easier to learn the information presented, retain it for longer periods and find it easier to understand the concepts and relate them to real life.

Several studies also prove that children who receive schooling in their mother tongue in the lower grades have better learning outcomes overall and have significantly better literacy levels. Apart from academic benefits, learning in mother tongue has proven to improve speaking skills and social skills which are key factors in creating well rounded citizens.

The proposed system provides a very promising prospect for our future education system and can revolutionise the teaching-learning process. However, there are a few creases in the proposed plan which can be ironed out by making certain changes in the system. If with careful planning this system is implemented successfully, I am certain it can make a positive impact our education system.

For now, let us look at the benefits of imparting learning in the mother tongue in the early years.

Strengthens foundational literacy

Home is the first school for any kid and children should be taught in their mother tongue. Beginning with mother tongue at home and learning in foreign language in school slows down the learning process. Any foreign language can be easily learnt by a child even after grade 5 because of brain plasticity. When the language of instruction is in the mother tongue, children can understand concepts faster and retain them for longer.

Better conceptual learning

The use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction in the classroom helps students to understand concepts more easily and relate better to the classroom discussion/conversation. Learning in a foreign language may cause distraction among students. Due to the use of English language, many parents are not able to participate in their child’s schooling. Teaching in the mother tongue can help increase the rate of parental participation in child’s schooling and lead to strong home-school partnerships.

Enhances mental skills

Being bilingual enhances analytical skills, they have higher synaptic activity in the brain due to multiple languages which shows higher mental flexibility and processing power. Learning in local language will boost self-confidence and will be able to express themselves in better ways.

Maintains cultural heritage

India is home to diverse languages which are unique in themselves. The loss of our languages and dialects will be cultural loss not just to India but also to the world. Learning through mother language or local language helps children to connect with their ancestors. Developed countries offer education in their native language which helps in preserving and maintaining cultural heritage.

Despite its various advantages, there are a few obvious shortcomings to this approach. First, teaching-learning in the mother tongue could be a challenge in metro cities where the students from multilingual backgrounds attend the same school.

Another drawback of this approach is that it does not consider children of parents with transferable jobs. Such children could face challenges adapting to a new language each time they enroll in a new school.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, and opinions of EducationWorld.

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