Indigenous languages in education: what the research actually shows

pdfIndigenous languages in Education: what the research really shows

Charles E. Grimes, Ph.D. 1

“Children learn better if they understand the language spoken in school. This is a straightforward observation borne out by study after study (Thomas and Collier, 1997; Dutcher, 1995; Patrinos and Velez, 1996; Walter, 2003). Even the important goal of learning a second language is facilitated by starting with a language the children already know. Cummins (2000) and others provide convincing evidence of the principle of interdependence—that second language learning is helped, not hindered by first language study. This leads to a simple axiom: the first language is the language of learning. It is by far the easiest way for children to interact with the world. And when the language of learning and the language of instruction do not match, learning difficulties are bound to follow.”

(World Bank 2006:3)

“The level of development of children's mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development.” (Cummins. 2000) 

Mother Tongue Matters


Several concerns converge on the issue of using local or minority languages in formal education. One of these has to do with increasing awareness of the value of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Many of the world’s languages and cultures are in danger of disappearing in the coming decades for a variety of political, economic and social reasons. For those concerned by this phenomenon, the challenge is to slow it down or stop it by promoting respect for linguistic and cultural rights, peaceful co-existence in multicultural societies and the preservation of our biocultural heritage.

Languages and Multilingualism

Languages matter!

J. Stitt,E. Serrabassa, A. Gingerich, S. Goh, P. Viisimaa, F. Rosier, C. Schmidt


UNESCO promotes linguistic diversity and multilingualism

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet.

World's Endangered Languages

UNESCO - Endangered Languages

It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century. With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.

From the Gallery

Languages of the Top End


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