Mother tongue must be a priority, expert says

April 09, 2011 - 2:27:58 am


DOHA: The students’ mother tongue should not be neglected in favour of achieving high level of second language proficiency, says an expert.

“I think it is obviously advantageous for Qatari students to develop the highest possible proficiency in English but I would urge that they not neglect the study of Arabic, that their first language needs to nurtured and sustained as well,” Dr Richard Tucker (pictured) told The Peninsula yesterday.

Dr Tucker, Paul Mellon University Professor of Applied Linguistics and Interim Dean of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar was speaking on the sidelines of the annual Qatar TESOL (Teachers of English to Students of Other Languages) conference yesterday at the College of the North Atlantic Qatar.

He delivered the opening plenary speech on ‘A Rationale for Developing Additive Bilingualism in Our Students’ during yesterday’s launch of the two-day conference.

A study Dr Tucker undertook with other experts in Canada and the US for over 20 years in the field of linguistics proved students who develop additive bilingualism turn out to be creative and cognitively flexible than learners who just focus on one language.

Additive bilingualism is a kind of bilingualism in which a second language is acquired without detriment to the mother tongue.

“Students who develop additive bilingualism are more creative and develop greater cognitive flexibility and this seems to help them do well in problem-solving tasks and when we systematically compared learners whom we refer to as additive bilinguals with their monolingual counterparts, they perform much better,” Dr Tucker said. Although there is no definite explanation on their findings, he said the mind-stretching involved in the learners may have been responsible in improving creativity and cognitive flexibility.

“I think there’s a type of mind stretching which causes them to develop a set of language learning strategies to consciously apply a set of strategies in new situations which they then can use to solve other problems as well,” he explained.

Among other benefits of additive bilingualism are higher meta-linguistic awareness and an enhanced cultural awareness students need in a global knowledge economy, Dr Tucker mentioned.

“Do all that you can to encourage students develop their first language skills while simultaneously do all that you can to develop the highest possible degree of proficiency in English in the students,” he encouraged hundreds of educators at the conference.

The Peninsula