Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education Programs

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Children from non-dominant language communities are often forced to begin their formal education in classrooms where their language is not allowed and the medium of instruction is a language they do not speak and barely understand.  

Mother tongue-first programs that are valued by students, parents and communities and sustained within or outside the formal education system share several general features:

 Two girls reading in the Dobo reading room

  • Teachers use what the children already know—their language and culture and the knowledge and experience they bring from their home community—to help them learn new concepts in school.
  • Language education begins with the children’s home language and then introduces them to the new language (or languages) in “small steps” so they  build confidence in speaking, understanding, reading and writing both or all of their languages.
  • Classes are firmly centered within the community and depend on community members to provide guidance for the program and provide the stories, songs, cultural knowledge and community values that are the foundation for learning in the classroom.

Clearly, there are political, economic and logistical challenges to mother tongue-first education programs for children in non-dominant language communities.  To help meet the challenges, SIL provides technical support to language communities, government agencies and institutions and to non-government organizations in planning and implementing strong and sustainable mother tongue-based multilingual education programs in both the formal and non-formal systems.  

Multilingual Education Videos on YouTube

Resources for Planning and Implementing Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education