Fluency in Mother Tongue Predicts Reading Ability in Second Language

It is only obvious that when a child enters school for the first time, it is important that the child feels at home. Nothing can be more alienating than sitting inside a classroom for the first time and not understanding a single word a teacher is saying. Mother tongue based education is undoubtedly important. Sadly, what is often emphasized is just the "mother tongue" part, with the "education" component often neglected or not supported.

To learn more about why mother tongue-based education is important, the above advocacy kit from UNESCO maybe helpful

Mother tongue based education means helping students to become proficient in their native tongue. It requires both teachers and resources. Teachers need to be competent in the first language of their students. Learning resources that are not just mere translations, but actual products of the local culture or experiences are necessary. The objective of helping children learn in their mother tongue does not miraculously happen without these inputs.

Too frequently, studies are cited that proficiency in one's mother tongue facilitates cognitive development and even learning a second language. What is often missed is the fact that what correlates with later success in education is not just having been taught first in the mother tongue, but actual proficiency in the mother tongue. Cummin's hypothesis after all is about a high level of proficiency in a first language facilitating the development of proficiency in a second language. This language-independent development of cognitive abilities has been demonstrated in numerous studies. For instance, a paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology shows a strong correlation between listening comprehension in a mother tongue and reading comprehension in a second language.

Students who demonstrate proficiency in listening comprehension in their mother tongue are also likely to perform well in reading comprehension in a second language. The part that education policy makers usually miss is that proficiency in the mother tongue is what seems to transfer to another language. Mother tongue based education is often not seen as a process, but a mere political declaration. Mother tongue based education can not work if students are not helped to become proficient in their native tongue.