Love in Language: the Importance of Mother Tongue

Our nation has a stunning number of eleven official languages, amongst others that don’t have an official status, that are spoken by the population. Most likely you are aware of the cultural significance of these mother languages spoken in South Africa. But did you also know that it plays a crucial role in the relationship between a mother and child?

Being brought up in a country where the vast majority of the population speaks one mother tongue, I was certainly not conscious of the beauty and importance of mother language. However, now that I am a mother myself in a bilingual family the topic rose as an important item to give thought within my parenthood journey.

The mother tongue forms the basis for early communication and bonding between the mother and child, enabling strong emotional understanding and connection. This in turn, also promotes a sense of comfort and security. In the longer run, it helps to pass down cultural heritage and family traditions, enabling the child to understand their roots and identity.

As we all get caught up in all the noise and busyness of having young children, I would speak more English than my mother tongue, Dutch. Out of convenience, and also not yet being mindful of the importance of my language. Nowadays, having found my feet in motherhood, standing for my roots, and having done my reading on this topic, I will always speak to my kids in my mother tongue.

Every year, on February 21st, International Mother Language Day is celebrated to stress linguistic diversity. We at Thula Baba Project believe that this contributes to the bonding between mother and child, and hope the celebration of this day helps to educate mothers about the importance of their mother tongue.