Mother Tongue……. A Valuable Support

Mother Tongue……. A Valuable Support for English Language Teaching

The use of the mother-tongue in an English classroom should not be a taboo, but the students` knowledge of the mother-tongue should put to good use. For example, mother-tongue can be profitably used to give instructions to the beginners, to explain meanings of the certain words like abstract nouns, to test comprehension at the early stage, to teach grammar and to tell the distinction between mother-tongue and English sounds.The knowledge of the mother-tongue is a valuable aid to the teaching of English. P.Gurrey says, “The teaching of the mother-tongue and the teaching of a foreign language can support and assist each other…and whether the language is the mother tongue or a foreign language, some of the principle underlying those methods will be the same,”

W.M. Ryburn holds the view that the mother-tongue can be of the greatest assistance, directly and indirectly. He says, “If sufficient attention is paid to the teaching of the mother-tongue, and if it is well taught, habits may be formed in that classroom which will be of the greatest value in connection with the learning of English.”

The knowledge of the mother tongue can help in the learning of a foreign language indirectly in the following aspects:

1.     Speaking

   Ryburn says, “The habits of speaking well should first be cultivated in the mother tongue in the classroom. If it is not done there, it will be doubly difficult to get it in the English classroom. We continually find boys/girls starting English who have never been taught to open their mouths properly or to articulate properly when they speak in their mother tongue. It should not be the job of the English teacher to teach them to do this and often a great deal of time is lost to subject of the English, because of these deficiencies. If, on the other hand, students are trained to speak fluently and express themselves clearly in their mother tongue, the task of the English teacher will be very much simplified.  

To speak well the speaker has to develop the habits of:

1.      Gathering ideas,

2.      Arranging them in the best order for communication, and

3.      Choosing the best language in which to convey the meaning.

If the student has acquired these habits in the mother-tongue and can face audience confidently, it will help him in acquiring the same habits in the case of the foreign language. If the student has ideas in the mother tongue, it will greatly facilitate oral composition in the foreign language because the only difficulty that he has to face will be that of the subject matter and not that of the language.

2.     Reading

Michel West says, “The sum total of the matter is that before beginning to teach a child to read a foreign language it is necessary that he/she should be made fully efficient in the reading of his/her mother-tongue.”

Pointing out the student`s lack of interest in reading book in English, Reburn observes, “Students are with difficulty persuaded to read any English book that is outside their course. One reason for this, to be sure, is the fact that very often books provided for extra reading are too difficult to be read easily. But another reason is that a taste for reading is not created in connection with the mother tongue, once the reading habit is formed in the mother-tongue, it will son manifest itself in English. This is where many of our schools are failing and here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the teacher of the mother-tongue can aid his/her English colleagues and mother-tongue can have a helpful influence on English.”

Taste for extra reading should first be created in the mother-tongue. Once the reading habit is formed, it will soon manifest itself in English.

3.     Writing

One of the problems in writing in a foreign language is the lack of ideas. This difficulty, however, can be overcome if the students have sufficient ideas in the mother-tongue. Another difficulty is the organization of ideas in a proper sequence. But if the students know how to organize ideas in the mother-tongue, he/she will be able to do so in the case of English also.

4.     Grammar

If the students know the grammar of his/her mother-tongue, it will facilitate his/her understanding of the grammar of the foreign language. The sentence patterns can also be taught by comparison and contrast with those of the mother-tongue.

Thus we notice that a severe training in the use of the mother-tongue is not a rival but a necessary preliminary to training in the use of English.

In the preceding paragraphs we have seen how the mother-tongue can help indirectly in the learning of English. Below we find how the mother-tongue can help directly in teaching of English.


The mother-tongue can profitably be used in the following situation with context of the local environment.

1.     Forgiving Instructions to Beginners: The mother-tongue can be profitably used in giving instructions to the beginners in English. These instructions may be for doing drill work or attempting exercises.

2.     For Telling Meanings: The mother-tongue can economically be used for telling meanings of certain words e.g. beauty, run, sit, standup, etc. if we use contextualized oral presentation to explain the meanings, the students may not be able to understand the exact meaning. Moreover, it needs really a skillful teacher who can explain the meaning through contextualized oral presentation. Apart from individual words, meaning of idioms, phrases like ‘A nine days` wonder, through thick and thin’ and proverbs like ‘A bad work man quarrels with his tools’ can be effectively explained in the mother-tongue. The same applies to long, complicated definitions and complex scientific principles and process.

3.     For Teaching Grammar: To teach formal grammar, reference to the equivalent grammatical terms in the mother-tongue and to the similarity and contrast in the behavior of the two languages can facilitate understanding of grammatical rules.

4.     For Testing Comprehension: Comprehension can be quickly tested, especially at the early stage, by asking the students to answer comprehension questions in the mother-tongue.

5.     For Teaching Contrast in Phonology: The sounds of English are different from those of the mother-tongue. We may use the mother-tongue to explain the differences between the sounds of English and those of the mother-tongue.

6.     For Remedial Teaching: In remedial teaching. Too, if it is felt that the explanation, which must always precede practice, could be brief, brisk, straightforward and easily understandable in the mother-tongue, then the use of the mother-tongue should be encouraged.



Leave a Comment