How many languages can you think in?
Language and identity
What does mother tongue mean?
Mother tongue is the first language a child learns. The word “mother tongue” is a bit confusing. Because it sounds like children learn their first language only from their mother. Children can also learn their first language from their fathers, grandparents or other people. The word mother tongue comes from a time when the mother was the central person in the family. She was responsible for bringing up the children. And that's how the children usually learned their language first.
Today there are many other ways children can grow up. Therefore it is better to use the word “first language” instead of “mother tongue”.
First language is best, right?
No, this is not always the case. There are people who move to a new country as children. A new language is added to their first language. Usually the first language is still spoken at home, but the new language is spoken at school or with friends, for example. It can of course happen that the children get out of practice in their first language and become better in the new language. So over time, some people also forget the language they grew up with.
What does bilingual mean?
When children grow up with two languages and speak both languages equally well, they are called bilingual. This is Latin and means "bilingual". Often a different language is spoken at home than at school.
When children grow up with more than two languages, that means "Multilingualism". An example: Esteban was born in Germany and goes to school here. His first language is Spanish, which he spoke to his mother from an early age. He learned German in kindergarten and school. He often speaks Dutch with his father , because it comes from the Netherlands.
Bilingual children often dream and think in different languages. Actually speaking several languages is a great thing. You can communicate in different countries around the world.
But it can happen that bilingual or multilingual children feel a little lost because of the many languages. Sometimes they have the feeling that they belong neither to one nor to the other culture. Because language always has something to do with identity.
Language and identity
We can not only communicate with language. It is also part of our identity, i.e. who we are. Because language is always linked to certain cultures and ways of life. Researchers have found that the grammar of a language affects how people perceive things. An example: a man breaks a vase. In German one would probably describe that the man broke the vase. In Spanish, for example, people would be more likely to say that the vase is broken now. You can probably imagine that this can lead to misunderstandings.
Perhaps you have also seen older people get upset about "the language of today". Often they find that there is too much influence from English, for example. Foreign languages or other influences on our language can appear threatening to people. Because language is closely linked to who we are. Some people subconsciously fear that they could lose parts of their identity if languages mix. Linguists agree that language is something that is constantly changing and developing. This is completely normal and there is nothing to worry about.
Do you speak several languages or do you know someone in your class?
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