‘Mother Tongue’ In This Economy

PICTURE: Twitter

The use of mother tongue has been called-for numerously as a solution to the education of the children in South Africa to make things easier to understand, writes MZWANDILE NONKULA

Though the belief is strong, it is mostly called by those playing in the political fields, those who claim patriotism and also by the reputable Academias. Strangely, the global economy is not commenting in words but in evidence of the opportunities available and how one can seize them.

I would like to view myself as an optimist, but first and foremost a realist. I am an Xhosa man who married a Mosotho with whom we have a 5-year-old daughter whose first language is English. My mother tongue is Xhosa, but what is ‘mother tongue’? Well, the dictionaries vary in this;

(1)The language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood, (2) usually refers to a person’s first language, (3) the first language that is spoken at home.

Nowhere it says that mother tongue is linked to one’s ethnicity. The mother tongue in my view is the language the child picks up first and usually from the mother who is rearing for him/her. This is the language spoken around the child at home. If a child learns two languages at the same time in early childhood, the mother tongue is the language the child spoke most often at home before starting school.

This is not disputed in the recommendations for censuses contained in the United Nations’ Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2, 2008. The United Nation defines mother tongue as “the language usually spoken in the individual’s home in his or her early childhood”.

In my house, we speak English because I am a bit tongue-tied when it comes to Sotho and I lack patience in listening to my wife assaulting my IsiXhosa language. We decided to find common ground which also happened to be the language used in most workplaces in our country. South Africa is very diverse in many ways but there are points where we find the middle ground where real opportunities reside.

Our child could speak both IsiXhosa and SeSotho but that is not what she speaks at home, in school and most definitely not where she will be looking for economic opportunities in the world in future. I do not see the fuss of wanting my child to speak IsiXhosa first.

When looking in the world which we would love to give to our child, obviously we cannot equip her in our own IsiXhosa and SeSotho. She has to know a language which is common in conversing with people from different parts of the world. We searched for schools for our daughter and we prioritized schools that offer different languages like German, Portuguese and French because we want our child to be ready for whatever comes as an opportunity.

Languages are more than the pride one has in speaking but a type of skill that one can proudly claim to possess. I listened when people complained why the Department of Education is going to introduce Mandarin in the public schools and how suspicious the reason was for the government to take that decision. My wife and I agreed that we would not be defiant and deny our child an opportunity to learn and be equipped for all opportunities. 

Most of the young black children who had careers early on Television in South Africa were those who were fluent in what(English) is being discouraged to speak all the time, while most of us were taught in our ‘mother tongue’ in the former homelands. They never got those opportunities because of the pride they had in the Nguni languages or local vernacular.

As career opportunities, industries, and employment opportunities change in these economic times, it is wise for a parent to change the mother tongue in order to equip their children. We are all doing it already. Very few of us communicate in our ‘mother tongues’ when we are congregating for braais and other social events. Very few of us even text in our ‘mother tongue’.

The language has evolved dramatically to the extent that even when I am speaking to my mother, we mix everything(all the languages we know) up as long as we understand each other.  I find it petty and limiting to be advocating for the use of what is mostly known as ‘mother tongue’ when opportunities out there do not care but are specific about what they want and is not ‘100% Venda/Zulu and others’.

Like  SoSaysMyDad on Facebook, follow us @SoSaysMyDad1, a movement set to encourage hands-on fathers in parenting.