Those who have studied the psycholinguistic development of a child are very clear about their findings. They say that language and cognitive development are intimately related. According to them, a child learns best in his mother tongue because he is not doubly burdened with the task of acquiring literacy skills simultaneously with learning another language not his own. That is why very often the student taught in a non-mother tongue learns to read syllable by syllable with very little comprehension.
Thus Prof Mujib, the renowned academic from Jamia Millia (Delhi), used to say that it takes 17 seconds for the child’s brain to translate a word from an unfamiliar language into his own and then another 17 seconds to re-translate a word from his mother tongue into the ‘foreign’ language he is being instructed in.
That would give one an idea of how much time and effort is involved in learning in a language not your own.
Hence researchers, who have tested children who are taught in their mother tongue and those whose medium of learning is a language that is alien to them, have found the first group to have a better understanding of what is taught to them and better verbal skills. In fact, when they move on to learn a second or even a third language at a later stage after the lateralization of the brain has taken place these children do so with ease and proficiency.
One researcher at the University of Toronto is of the view that to reject a child’s language in the school where he goes to study amounts to rejecting the child himself. He at once senses this rejection and is less likely to participate confidently in classroom activities.
Why is the medium of instruction question still such a hotly debated issue in Pakistan? We want to teach our primary school students in Urdu because it is the national language (and not in Punjabi, Balochi, Pushto or Sindhi), or in English because it is the international language that matters today. That...
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