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Why is mother tongue so important?

Professor Jim Cummins from the University of Toronto has written about the importance of mother tongue. Why is it so important that parents speak their own mother tongue to their children?

According to Cummins, research has clearly shown that mother tongue has a very important role in children’s overall development. When children develop their skills in two or even three languages, they get a deeper understanding of how to use different languages effectively. In fact, extensive research supports the notion that a child who only knows one language doesn’t know it well enough. The situation is different with children who speak more languages. They are often more flexible in their thinking as they can process information in different languages.

Cummins, J. (2001). Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why is it important for education?

Rafael and his mother, Cecilia, are from Argentina and they speak Spanish as their mother language. Rafael has been a patient at TCMC since he was a baby.

  1. Do you think it is important to maintain your mother language with your kids? Why?

We are from Argentina so our first language is Spanish and for us it’s super important to maintain our mother tongue. First, because we are expats and will eventually return home, so the kids (we have 3) need to talk the language as natives. Also, we, as parents, feel that being bilingual gives them an advantage among their peers: knowing as many languages as possible makes you not only able to communicate, see other perspective, and as a result makes you feel more empathy for the other person.

  1. Do you feel difficult to keep you mother language being an expat? Why?

We don’t feel it’s difficult because for us it’s quite natural to speak Spanish to our kids, and that makes it natural for them to reply in same way. Of course, for them it’s sometimes easier to express themselves in English, but when they do, we always reply in Spanish and doing so we give them the words they were missing.

  1. What do you do to continue to expose your kids to your mother language?

We try to travel back home twice a year, which exposes them to spending time with family, friends, tv and movies in Spanish, and other elements of the culture: it makes them proud of their food, their country and their language.

We also do virtual Argentinian school, which makes them practice reading and witting in Spanish (among other things).

Mother and child having fun while teaching and playing together

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