Teach chil­dren in their mother tongue

CityPress - - Voices -

child, dif­fer­ent cells of the brain are stim­u­lated at the same time. This stim­u­la­tion in­te­grates nerve cells into vir­tual cir­cuits that get stronger every time the child hears a story. The sense of se­cu­rity, love and hap­pi­ness they feel in their mother or fa­ther’s arms causes the brain to re­lease happy neu­ro­trans­mit­ters that mo­ti­vate cu­rios­ity and a de­sire to learn. Th­ese cir­cuits are the ba­sis for crit­i­cal think­ing, imagination and em­pa­thy. In other words, word patterns be­come the blue­print of who we are and how we think. Iden­tity and in­tel­lect fuse to­gether in the work­ings of our brain, which is most re­cep­tive to stim­u­la­tion in the first few years of life. Chil­dren there­fore learn bet­ter when they are taught in the lan­guage that has shaped and primed their brains. Of course, our iden­ti­ties change over the course of life as neu­ral cir­cuits adapt to new stim­uli. Once peo­ple achieve a high level of sec­ond-lan­guage pro­fi­ciency, they may even switch to a new pri­mary iden­tity in which they think and talk most freely in their adopted mother tongue. Yes, a child can learn a sec­ond or third lan­guage early on. How­ever, their abil­ity to truly mas­ter it de­pends on the in­ten­sity of ex­po­sure and the pro­fi­ciency of their par­ent or teacher. It can only be­come their log­i­cal lan­guage of learn­ing if they get so good at the new lan­guage that it rewires the neu­ral cir­cuitry that de­fines their very iden­tity. Chil­dren should first learn to swim in words spo­ken and writ­ten in the lan­guage of the per­son who cares for them most.

Ar­guably, sooner or later, chil­dren in South Africa will need to learn English. But here’s the rub: sud­den tran­si­tions to English as their lan­guage of in­struc­tion can be dam­ag­ing, es­pe­cially if it hap­pens be­fore they can read and speak it well. This dis­rup­tion can trig­ger an iden­tity cri­sis – a “brain shock” from which chil­dren may never re­cover.

Many even­tu­ally drop out of school be­cause they no longer know who they are and have not mas­tered the ba­sic con­cep­tual tools of learn­ing.

If we are to in­cul­cate in chil­dren a love of books and an in­tu­ition to learn, we must tap into the most pri­mal con­nec­tions that make them who they are: the deep bonds be­tween mother and child, and the pro­found links be­tween the emo­tional, sen­sory and cog­ni­tive do­mains of the brain that form in the first few years of life.

Har­ri­son is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the DG Mur­ray Trust

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