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"SaY" it with Education: Should Children read more books in Local Languages?

"It's not about the pride associated with local language, but demolishing the idea that standard languages are the only way to learn. Learning English shouldn't stop us from learning our mother tongue as well."

Even as parents and schools focus on teaching English language to children today, many of them are gradually losing touch with their respective mother tongue.


India has an abundance of native languages, around 780, as per activist and professor GN Devy’s People’s Linguistic Survey of India, down from 1,652 languages counted by the government in 1961. And even of these 780 languages, some are endangered.


With language being a prominent medium of representing one’s culture — not to mention its diversity in our country — the gradually diminishing interest in mother tongue has also compromised one’s way of expression to establish their true identity.


Traditionally, India has had a rich repository of regional literature for children and yet, more often than not, they are either not encouraged enough or they don’t proper access to it.


As per UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, 40% of the global population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. This translates to over two billion people who would benefit from having books in their mother tongues.


One of main reasons for this, perhaps, is how our education system is shaped to promote English, and what the curriculum calls a “second language”, more than the others. “Our education system has a lot of focus on learning English, because that’s obviously what is promoted in the job market. So, we start considering English and a few other standard languages as the only means to learning. Private schools start discouraging children to speak their mother tongue by penalising them for doing so. There are monetary fines involved at times too. This creates a kind of culture where mother tongue is looked down upon and discouraged in public spaces.”


With 40% of the global population not having access to education in their first language, the issue of lack of linguistic diversity in children’s books is a serious concern.


Currently, we are under utilising the potential of regional languages. Learning can happen through any language or medium. There is a lot of potential in learning through local languages, which doesn’t get utilised.


How to get children to read books in their mother tongue?


Dearth of books in regional language is a challenge. But, publishing books won’t be enough, unless children are actually able to have access to them. While digital libraries are a step forward, what we need essentially need is more awareness and simultaneously, greater visibility for these books.


The mother tongue is an important way to get children to stay rooted to their culture and a storybook in English may not serve the purpose sometimes.


“Children learn both from the reality around them and through their world of imagination."

Many a times, books in a language that is not from our own region may not have an expression for things local to us. So, we start getting alienated from our immediate surroundings. While that doesn’t mean stories in other languages don’t trigger their imagination, children also need to be able connect with their real world, to express themselves better. It helps them develop an identity.


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This is not to say that children should only focus on regional literature. The idea is to get parents and schools to encourage them to read books both in English and their mother tongue.


It’s not so much about the pride associated with local language but more about demolishing the idea that standard languages are the only way to learn, when most parts of the world are focusing on promoting their mother tongue. These languages don’t stand in contradiction to one another. Learning English shouldn’t stop us from learning our mother tongue as well.


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Spin A Yarn India (www.spinayarnindia.com) is a partner of the United Nations Indigenous Language and the Bhasha Sangam programs and is on a mission to protect, preserve and promote indigenous language, culture and heritage in India and abroad.