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IYL '08: Moratorium on beating kids for speaking mother tongue?

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  • Don Osborn
    Happy New Year 2008, which is the International Year of Languages ! * Whatever else might be accomplished during IYL, one modest proposal I would like to put
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2008
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      Happy New Year 2008, which is the "International Year of Languages"! *



      Whatever else might be accomplished during IYL, one modest proposal I would
      like to put forward is that during this Year, there be an absolute
      prohibition on beating, shaming or otherwise punishing children for speaking
      their mother tongue at home or at school.



      All the rest is commentary.



      Punishing children for speaking their mother tongue is not new - one can
      read a lot about this of this sort of thing in biographical accounts (formal
      and informal) from all over the world, and that is just the tip of the
      iceberg. What is surprising is that it still continues even in extreme
      forms. For example, I just received an email from someone in Tanzania who
      mentioned teachers threatening young students with a beating if they spoke
      their maternal language. Not long ago there was mention in an article of
      some parents in Uganda beating their kids for speaking something other than
      English at home. (Those are just two examples from one region.).



      Some people will justify some kind of punishment for whatever reason
      (curriculum, language learning, etc.). The kind of punishment is another
      issue (important but another issue). But the issue here is that if learning
      is the object in an obviously multilingual setting, there are better ways to
      achieve it than by condemning maternal languages as out of place and
      punishing students who use them in the process f learning.



      This is not to say that language in a multilingual classroom or community is
      not a complex issue, but that negative approaches to children's first
      languages - which in some places go all the way to corporal punishment - are
      negative approaches to learning and to various social factors in a child's
      life.



      Once the punishing of children for speaking their mother tongue stops, then
      maybe some good thinking can go into what are the best ways to promote
      learning overall, including in first and second languages.



      It should also become clear from a moratorium on punishing children for
      speaking their mother tongue for the duration of IYL (all of 2008) that the
      alternative to such punishment is not babel and ignorance.



      So can this practice be stopped, at least for just this one year?



      Don Osborn





      * see the UNESCO page at http://tinyurl.com/2u2ewd



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