Multilingualism and Mother Tongue

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Mother tongue-based multilingual education (MLE) is a formal or nonformal education, in which the children’s mother tongue is used in the classroom as a bridge in learning Filipino and English. Children begin their education in a language they understand, their mother tongue, and develop a strong foundation in their mother language. The purpose of a multilingual education program is to develop appropriate cognitive and reasoning skills enabling children to operate equally in different languages – starting in the mother tongue with transition to Filipino and then English. It is a structured program of language learning and cognitive development which provides learners with a strong educational foundation in the first language.

If the mother tongue is not used, we create people who are illiterate in two languages. Children do not become sufficiently fluent in their mother tongue (L1) in both oracy and literacy if their vocabulary in L1 is limited, thus restricting their ability to learn a second language (L2). A strong foundation in L1 is required for learning L2. Children’s understanding of concepts is limited or confused if leaning is only L2.

What are the advantages of mother tongue-based multilingual education? Providing education in children’s first language, while at the same time providing them with support to learn a second language of wider communication, has several advantages: it increases access to school, as well as promotes equity in learning; it leads to improved learning outcomes; it reduces repetition and drop-out rates; and it can lead to lower education costs due to greater efficiency. In one study, analysis of data from 22 developing countries and 160 language groups revealed that children who had access to instruction in their mother tongue were significantly more likely to be enrolled and attending school. Conversely, lack of education in a child’s first language was a significant reason for children dropping out (Smits et al.,...
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