Although my native language is English, I’ve grown up in a household where two languages have been spoken throughout my life. Both my parents are immigrants from foreign countries with English being their second language, so naturally at home they use their mother tongue. I remember as a child finding it frustrating having to switch between the two languages and often struggling to understand what they meant. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised the importance of keeping the mother tongue and regret not spending more time learning it in my childhood.
Here are a few reasons why the mother tongue is important:
Cultures are connected to languages. Jokes, festivities, religious ceremonies all carry cultural significance that are linked to the language they come from. Often, translating things into English results in the meaning being lost and it loses its effect. Sometimes, I worry about, as I get older, how I will possibly be able to pass down all the wonderful cultural traditions I’ve enjoyed (e.g. crazy Indian weddings) to my children, when I don’t fully understand them myself.
It brings a sense of pride. The language represents the country where you came from, and by speaking it you are sharing and celebrating your country with others.
A sign of intelligence. It’s incredibly difficult to learn and speak another language (I’ve been learning Chinese for almost 6 years now and I’m still not fluent!).
Businesses want it. Jobs in trade, government, teaching, marketing, all need multi-linguists. We live in a world that’s globalised, diverse and where multiple languages are spoken every day. The mother tongue is invaluable!
Connecting with the older generation. Learning English is definitely becoming more commonplace now, but for the older generation this wasn’t always the case. My grandmother couldn’t speak a word of English and I wish I’d made more of an effort to learn my mother tongue so I could connect with her on a deeper level.
It fosters an environment of diversity and multi-culturalism. We may live in the UK with English as our national language, but did you know that over 300 languages are spoken here?! That wouldn’t be possible without people maintaining their mother tongue!
This article was written to celebrate ‘International Mother Language Day’ which is on February 21st 2021.
Read here to find out more about International Mother Language Day - https://www.un.org/en/observances/mother-language-day
If you like poems, you’ll enjoy this one about the mother tongue - https://genius.com/Sujata-bhatt-search-for-my-tongue-annotated