The first language

Today in Rwanda, if one was to carry out a survey to find out which language parents rather their children speak first, you will find that English and French top the list.  

Today in Rwanda, if one was to carry out a survey to find out which language parents rather their children speak first, you will find that English and French top the list.  

Last week, I went to pick my four-year-old niece from school and I overheard a parent complaining to a nursery teacher that her son was using more Kinyarwanda than English and French. This is when I realized that Kinyarwanda is being sidelined. 

28-year-old mother of twins, Sylvia Uwase, believes that children need to learn their mother tongue before learning foreign languages. 

“Kinyarwanda, which is our mother tongue, should be the first language that our children learn. I believe that even when they start school, it will be easier to learn foreign languages based on what they know in their local language,” Uwase suggests. 

She continues, “For example when a child understands syllables or the alphabet in their local language, chances are high that they will easily understand syllables and the alphabet of a foreign language. For instance my 3-year-old daughter now knows that ‘Imodoka’ is a car in English.”

An article by Carol Bainbridge, How Do Children Learn Language shows that language learning is natural. Babies are born with the ability to learn and learning begins at birth. All children, no matter what language their parents speak, learn languages the same way. This learning takes place in three basic stages.

The stages include learning sounds, learning words and learning sentences. 

An article by Jean de la Croix Tabaro “What should be the language of instruction in lower primary?” that was published in The New Times on June 26, 2013, stated that according to UNESCO, one of the biggest hindrances to Education For All is the use of foreign languages when teaching and learning.

According to Brian Kasawuli, Head Master of Alpha Community School, when a child is exposed to a foreign language like English at an early stage, it forms a strong foundation. 

“With the mother tongue (local language), children can adopt easily since they grow up in the environment where this local language is used all the time. But for a foreign language like English which they have to learn while at school, it’s important that they learnt it at an early age,” Kasawuli elucidates. 

He further says that as an English and Literature teacher, he discovered that children can learn any language easily. 

“Where there is need for emphasis and understanding, the mother tongue can be used,” he states.

 

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