Friday, 4 February 2011

What is your first language?

The concept of the First Language is generally confusing for many people.The definition of first language is mother tongue: one's native language; the language learned by children and passed from one generation to the next.

Most people assume that their first language is the language they are fluent whilst in actual fact it is the language(s) they are exposed to up to their first birthday. Isn't that funny? I have many students who would say that they were born in the UK and went to school here therefore their first language is English. This is only possible if their parents did not communicate with them in any other languages since their infancy. 

In the UK, the DfE (Department of Education) recommends that schools should record the language which was communicated with the child until s/he is one year old as the child's first language. The reason behind this is to understand the linguistic background of the student and find more efficient ways to support him or her throughout their academic learning. 

The first language background plays a significant role in the child's personal, social and cultural identity.It provides a clear idea to teachers about the impact on the students linguistic skills and competence.

According to Vygotsky, an infant learns the meaning of signs through interaction with its main care-givers, e.g., pointing, cries, and gurgles can express what is wanted. How verbal sounds can be used to conduct social interaction is learned through this activity, and the child begins to utilize, build, and develop this faculty, e.g., using names for objects, etc. All humans complete their internalized  linguistic ability until they are one.  

According to 'First Language Acquisition' researchers, infants start to discriminate the differences between vowels and consonants from one month onwards. Therefore, they are able to distinguish languages categorically from very early on and this ability helps them to specialize in the languages they are exposed to during this period of their lives.

It is crucial to recognize and value students' first languages for the benefit of their emotional well-being. However, parents would also like to be valued for their first languages. There are many out there who cannot speak their first language because either their parents were not confident enough to speak to them, or they did not think it was necessary for them to learn.It does not change the fact however, that we are attached to our linguistic background emotionally and socially. No one should be penalized for wanting to speak their mother tongue in different countries. 


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