International Mother Language Day 2019

To celebrate International Mother Language Day we asked thirty of our trusted translators two related questions:

  1. Do you speak your mother language at home and;
  2. Should mother languages be promoted at school, university and in business?


  1. At home I speak to my children in my mother tongue.
  2. Yes, I would definitely advocate that my mother tongue be spoken in schools, universities, and at business level to advance my language and also to allow its speakers to express themselves freely and better at this level.


  1. I do speak to my child in his mother tongue as well as in English at home.
  2. Using the mother tongue at school and university is a tricky one. Only because I feel that, at the moment, our African languages are not advanced enough (yet) to be used to teach at university level. However, the African languages should be taught at all schools, for us to finally get to a point where they can be used to teach.


  1. At home we speak English to our children because we feel it will serve as an advantage in the future. It’s only now that my 14-year-old-son is starting to show an interest in speaking Sepedi.
  2. Yes I would, people find it easier to express their views and understand things if they are spoken to in their mother tongue.


  1. My home language is Xitsonga. I speak to my children in my home language. It is for the preservation and development of my home language. Secondly, when you speak to a person in the language he speaks it goes to the head, but if you speak in his language it goes to the heart. He will understand much better when I speak to him in his mother tongue, he will understand much better.
  2. My kids started in the former Model C Schools where there were no African languages taught. We recommended that those languages be introduced. I am happy to inform you that today they teach those African languages, Xitsonga and Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho).


  1. Yes, we speak our mother tongue language. They will learn English at school.
  2. Yes, it is easy for the child to understand items in his or her mother tongue and the child doesn’t forget easily when taught in his or her mother tongue.


  1. When I speak to my children, I code-switch and code-mix between their “home language” (Setswana) and their “first language” (English), but we mainly communicate in English. They became “first language” English speakers due to an English-dominant environment they grew up in (Kenilworth, Cape Town and Centurion, Gauteng).
  2. Yes, I would advocate for my “home language” (Setswana) to be taught at school to enrich learners’ linguistic repertoire and create a higher appreciation of South Africa’s diversity. I would even support the idea of teaching Setswana at university level as a module for non-home language speakers to help them function in communities where Setswana is either a dominant language (e.g. North West) or a significant language (e.g. Northern Cape, Free State and parts of Gauteng such as West Rand District Municipality and City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality). Such a module would enable non-Setswana speakers to socialise more in their environments, and this would encourage social cohesion.


  1. We use mother tongue and lingua franca at home, but mainly mother tongue.
  2. Mother tongue should be used at lower level of primary education and remain a major subject at other levels, with gradual focus on lingua franca languages for easy integration in globalization.


  1. Mother tongue should be spoken at home. Or children should be raised bilingually if parents speak different languages.
  2. No. Mother tongue should never be promoted to the possible detriment of the child later in life. English or another lingua franca should be used that would advance them in the future.


  1. My child’s first language is English as she was born in SA but I speak to her in my mother tongue – Polish – and I want her to learn Polish.
  2. No, I would not advocate for the Polish language to be used in SA. It is a too rare a language.


  1. I have two children who are completely bilingual as we have spoken Italian in the home. I speak to them in English and my husband speaks only Italian to them. My husband and I speak Italian to each other. This arrangement has worked very well for us.
  2. I feel the more languages they know, the better, and sticking to one language, be it a ‘more advantageous’ language or not, is a bad idea. It separates them form their culture, grandparents etc. Young children learn languages very quickly and it is not necessary to teach them in their mother tongue. It is necessary for them to be fluent in their mother tongue though.


  1. I would speak to my children in both Portuguese and their mother tongue, Portuguese is my first language and it would be only natural to teach my kids to speak that as well.
  2. Yes, I would advocate for my mother tongue to be used specially at the business level because knowledge of languages always brings great business opportunities


  1. Mother tongue. We live in the UK, and we’d like to keep options open for our son.
  2. Arabic is used in many countries and is one of the UN’s official languages so, yes, I’d advocate it.


  1. Yes I speak to my child and family in my mother tongue.
  2. Yes, however it needs to be in combination with English as some concepts have no vernacular names, like “co-efficient” in maths. This will facilitate learning because things can be further explained in vernacular. It will help increase understanding of concepts and increase recall. It will also make it easier for mother-tongue speakers to explain complicated concepts during examinations.


  1. I speak mostly mother tongue at home but sometimes we code switch if kids can’t hear us.
  2. I would because most translation graduates, especially young ones, struggle with vocabulary in their mother tongue and it lowers the standard of translation. This is caused by the fact that they never studied languages but did translation studies without grammar knowledge.


  1. No question: Mother tongue, especially in the early years. I feel that good pronunciation and right grammar are very important which I couldn’t deliver well enough in any other language than German.
  2. School – yes. University – if possible. Business level – not necessarily. Why? a) Language is a vital part of our culture, b) Learning in your mother tongue produces better academic results because concepts are grasped more easily.


  1. Normally we speak to our child in his mother tongue. But, we are also serious to help him excel in English. In fact, his mother and I do our best, including sending him to a school which values English language proficiency to make sure he will be fluent in English. Regarding his mother tongue, we are not that much concerned as we are sure he will be fluent anyways.
  2. Sure, I would advocate Amharic to be used at school, university and business because the language should keep growing in all walks of life, including science and technology, adopting and incorporating new concepts and terminologies. Otherwise, the purity of the language will be seriously affected.


  1. We use both English and Swahili at home, either blending the two in conversations, or using them independently. I would like my children to master Swahili as a way of retaining their culture and identity.
  2. Swahili is only used in the education system within Swahili as a subject, but not generally as a language of instruction. It is also used in informal communication in schools and universities, especially among peers, both students and educators. I would like to see Swahili used formally in schools as a way of retaining their culture and identity.


  1. I have spoken my mother tongue to my child from day one – my husband speaks English. I stick to Dutch in order for my son to be able to study in The Netherlands if he wishes, or to become a translator ─ English to Dutch and vice versa since he is fully bilingual.
  2. In South Africa Dutch is not necessary. In The Netherlands it is of course.


  1. I speak both the mother tongue and English.
  2. Yes, I would advocate for mother tongue use in school, university, and business level because I believe we learn best in our mother tongues. Children also learn languages very easily so learning a widely spoken language such as English would not be a problem for them, while they are being taught other subjects in their mother tongue. The languages themselves hold a lot of history which needs to be preserved and the best way to pass on history while maintaining and strengthening the languages would be to use them as languages of instruction from an early age.


  1. I am using our mother tongue to speak to my children at home, I do not use English at all. They only use it at school.
  2. Yes I would advocate for it with all my being. The reason being to keep it alive and relevant all the time and also to make sure that our kids know their origins and to understand their courses and modules better.

International Mother Language Day 2019


  1. I speak to my children in a mixture of Greek, which is spoken in this country, and English which is my mother tongue.
  2. I would advocate for the use of my mother tongue as opposed to Greek at any level.


  1.  I speak to my children in our home language. They use English sometimes between themselves and when they are talking to their friends who are not Sesotho speakers. English is the language that they use in school and they are very comfortable and fluent in it, but that does not mean it is more important than their home language. My daughter only started crèche at the age of four because I wanted her to speak Sesotho only and be fluent in it before she went to crèche where they only speak English.
  2. Yes, I would advocate for my language to be used at school, university or even business level. Other nations do not compromise with their languages. English will always be the communication medium between people who do not understand each other’s languages. But that doesn’t mean their languages should be suppressed even where it is possible for them to be used.


  1. I would speak in our mother tongue.
  2. I would. Because the language is essential to its speaker. In my opinion, without the mother tongue, the identity of the people, Kazakh in my case, would be lost with time. This phenomenon is apparent in Russia, for example, where people of different ethnicities are losing their identity, because they all speak Russian.


  1. I speak to them in the mother language and the second language interchangeably.
  2. I wouldn’t advocate for that: English which is our second language here is an international language as opposed to Shona. Mastery of the English language is therefore important as it brings opportunities at a local business level and the world at large.


  1. When they are still very young (younger than five years) I will speak to them in their mother tongue because I feel it is important for their development. From five years on I might consider occasionally speaking in English to help develop that language skill. Especially in South Africa where more of our schools tend to be double-medium of parallel-medium schools. Most of the movies and series they watch are English.
  2. I would definitely advocate the use of my mother-tongue at school especially up to grade seven, because I believe basic skills will develop easier and better if the child is taught in the language he or she uses in their thought processes. From grade eight I think the child can be taught in English because there is a good foundation and teachers can now build on and it prepares them for university. Personally I do not mind the use of English at university level because most of the handbooks are in English and some students find it difficult to cope if they attend Afrikaans lectures, but use English handbooks. All advanced language studies, however, should be taught in the specific language.


  1. Yes, I use Ndebele as a means of communication with my kids.
  2. Ndebele is still prevalent in Zimbabwe in schools, homes, colleges, media, and universities. It’s still widely  used as a language, carrier of culture, source of culture, et cetera.


  1. Yes, mother tongue.
  2. Yes for school, make the young people know more about the mother language and local traditional culture. Not sure about university and business level.


  1. I feel strongly that the child should be exposed to both of our languages and should be bilingual. In the case of my wife and I, we are privileged in that both of our languages (English and Spanish) are widely spoken in the world, both of them are useful to learn and are associated with social mobility.
  2. If my mother tongue were not one of the global languages, I would advocate at least for its formal use in schools. I would also advocate for its use on the internet (or try to promote content in that language on the internet), as the internet could potentially be an even stronger vehicle for the promotion of language than business. I also believe in the formal recognition of languages by states and countries, like how South Africa has done in recognising 11 official languages.


  1. If I had children of my own, yes I would ensure that they speak my mother tongue. The same way my mom ensured that I speak the language even though I grew up in the UK. So I’d do the same for them.
  2. Yes, I would advocate for the adaptation of my language at institutions of higher learning, business et cetera, simply because there are a lot of Malawians as well as Zambians in South Africa who speak this language and contribute to the economy and have made South Africa their home. I know they would enjoy interacting in this language as well as teaching this beautiful language to those interested in learning it.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela’s stance on this contentious question seems clear.