Why is mother tongue important?

Many studies in the history of linguistics have focused on exploring the effects of mother tongue development on bilinguals’ social and academic life. As it is known, being bilingual positively affects many aspects of an individual’s life. Bilingualism promotes the linguistic, emotional, and cognitive development of children. Studies have shown that bilingual children outperform monolingual children in cognitive control tasks [1]. Besides, the creative thinking abilities of bilingual children are more developed than monolingual children have also been stated [2].

The findings mentioned above are just some of the numerous arguments that can be presented to support bilingualism and, therefore, children’s mother tongue development through mother-tongue teaching. It is known that learning the mother tongue, which many linguists underline its importance, contributes to bilingual children’s emotional, linguistic, and cognitive development processes.

Some studies investigated the language development of bilingual children of Turkish origin living in the Netherlands and reported that these children’s Turkish language development progressed more slowly than their peers living in Turkey [3]. Moreover, bilingual Turkish children in a Dutch submersion environment, where Turkish language education in schools is not provided, lagged behind their monolingual Dutch and Turkish-speaking peers in Turkey. More importantly, bilingual Turkish children who live in the Netherlands were stated as not having native-like proficiency in both their languages due to the inevitable interrelatedness of the first and second language development [4]. This finding is indeed one of the most striking impacts of factors such as the lack of academic support for mother-tongue development and the lack of adequate exposure to the mother tongue in the second language development.

The importance of bilingual children learning their mother tongue in an academic environment is emphasized by studies that evaluate the subject from different perspectives. Most of these studies concluded that the level of proficiency in the mother tongue affects the learning process of the second language [5]. Therefore, being exposed to the mother tongue in the home environment and not being able to receive education through an educational institution hinders not only the child’s mother tongue development but also the second language development. It is extensively stated that children exposed to their mother tongue in the home environment and their second language in the school environment have insufficient language development in both languages [6]. Besides, the second language learning pace is influenced heavily by the mother-tongue development. It is stated that children who learn their mother tongue in an academic environment learn their second language faster, and their proficiency in this language is higher than children who do not learn their mother tongue in an educational institution [5]. Thus, it is undeniable that the mother tongue learning being received in an academic environment affects bilingual children’s second language development, cognitive development, and eventually, their academic success. Expectedly, the benefits of supporting mother-tongue development are not limited to its impacts on language and cognitive skills. As a matter of fact, in cases where the development of the mother tongue is supported academically, it has been observed that the increased proficiency of the dominant language of the society in which these people live positively affected the social relations of bilinguals [7].

To sum up, children who are fluent in their mother tongue learn their second language more quickly and comprehensively. Learning the mother tongue paves the way for the children to better adapt to the country’s language, culture, and society. In light of all these abovementioned implications, the fact that supporting the mother tongue development of bilingual children of Turkish origin will positively affect several aspects of children’s lives should be accepted, and educational opportunities should be provided accordingly.


  1. Morton, J. Bruce, and Sarah N. Harper. “What did Simon say? Revisiting the bilingual advantage.” Developmental science 10.6 (2007): 719-726.
  2. Carringer, Dennis C. “Creative thinking abilities of Mexican youth: The relationship of bilingualism.” Journal of cross-cultural psychology 5.4 (1974): 492-504.
  3. Verhoeven, Ludo T, and Hendrik E. Boeschoten. “First language acquisition in a second language submersion environment.” Applied Psycholinguistics 7.3 (1986): 241-255.
  4. Aarts, Rian, and Ludo Verhoeven. “Literacy Attainment in a Second Language Submersion Context.” Applied Psycholinguistics, vol. 20, no. 3, (1999), pp. 377–393., doi:10.1017/S0142716499003033.
  5. Collier, Virginia P. “How long? A synthesis of research on academic achievement in a second language.” TESOL quarterly 23.3 (1989): 509-531.
  6. Verhoeven, Ludo T. “Predicting minority children’s bilingual proficiency: Child, family, and institutional factors.” Language Learning 41.2 (1991): 205-233.
  7. Gardner, R.C., & Lambert, W.E. (1972). Attitudes and Motivation in Second-Language Learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

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