Video: How mother-tongue instruction works

  • In developing countries, the official language is often used in primary schools as the language of instruction.
  • Students whose first language is not the official language often struggle to understand content taught in school.
  • Mother-tongue instruction in early grades can build a strong foundation on which students learn academic concepts and the official language.
  • Research has found early-grade mother-tongue instruction to be highly effective in developed country contexts; emerging evidence indicates it is also promising in developing countries.

Make sure teaching and learning materials are available in the mother tongue.

Materials in the mother tongue (such as lesson plans, primers, or student worksheets) should cover the same content as the regular curriculum and also emphasize developing language skills. Materials should be fun and interactive and draw on locally-relevant content when possible.

Trainer's Guide for the Multi-Strategy Economy Model

A step-by-step guide to creating mother-tongue primers; also includes instructions on training teachers to use the primers in their classrooms and details on suggested activities for teaching children literacy skills in the mother-tongue.
SIL International, 2002
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Guide Elementaire Bilingue

This is an example of a teacher guide developed by ARED for teaching a bilingual curriculum (using French and the local language, Wolof or Pulaar, depending on the region).
ARED Senegal
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Jolly Phonics

This website gives guidance on steps to teach the key components of early literacy including teaching letter sounds, letter formations, blending sounds, identifying sounds in words, and reading tricky words. The site also contains free worksheets. Early literacy concepts are taught with English materials, but practitioners have used them as guides for developing similar materials in the mother-tongue.
Jolly Phonics
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Teacher Guide: Weather: English (P1, Term 2)

This is an example of a teacher guide used in the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which helps students to improve literacy skills through basing instruction in the mother tongue.
Mango Tree Uganda
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5 Big Ideas of Literacy

This website provides information on the five “big ideas” in teaching beginning reading: phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency with text, vocabulary, and comprehension. These concepts are explained with examples and instructional tips in English, but can be applied to other languages when practitioners are developing mother-tongue instructional materials.
University of Oregon
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Paul Nation

The research of Paul Nation, Emeritus Professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, provides guidance on developing second-language courses and course material.
Victoria University of Wellington
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Worlds in the Making

Explore a case study of Worlds in the Making, which is developing and testing tri-lingual primers for students in Punjab, Pakistan.
Simorgh Pakistan
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Northern Uganda Literacy Program

Explore a case study of the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which works to provide effective and affordable language instruction resources and community support for local language learning in Uganda and creates teaching and learning materials (e.g. primers and readers) in multiple languages.
Mango Tree
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Improving the Quality of Mother Tongue-based Literacy and Learning: Case Studies from Asia, Africa, and South America

Multiple case studies describe the process of creating mother-tongue teaching and learning materials. Pages 184-186 review the lessons learned from these case studies.
UNESCO
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Mother Tongue-based Literacy Programmes: Case Studies of Good Practice in Asia

Case studies highlight challenges related to creating teaching and learning materials for minority languages and considerations to take into account when doing so.
UNESCO
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First Language First: Community-Based Literacy Programmes for Priority Language Contexts in Asia

This report provides guidelines for developing teaching and learning materials for mother-tongue literacy programs, such as types of literature to consider, ways to encourage local development of materials, and examples of projects that have developed their own materials.
UNESCO, 2005
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Supporting and Assessing Reading and Writing

This is a teacher's guide that provides examples of activities for students to practice reading and writing in local languages and in English, and offers tips on assessment.
Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)
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Make sure students have access to storybooks in the mother tongue.

Children tend to have limited access to reading material in their mother tongue. Implementers should work with publishers and community members to build a collection of storybooks and other reading material to support students in developing literacy skills in the mother tongue.

Advocacy Kit for Promoting Multilingual Education

Pages 20-21 of the "Booklet for Program Implementers" section detail the importance of providing mother tongue reading materials.
UNESCO, 2007
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StoryWeaver

StoryWeaver provides free online access to over 1,000 children's books in 32 languages. It also allows students to write their own stories inspired by images they select from a library. Stories can be filtered by reading level so children can read at a level that is right for them.
Pratham, 2015
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Worldreader Mobile - Children's Books

Mobile access on basic phones and smart phones to free children's reading content, organized by age. Mostly English books, with some titles in Swahili, Spanish, and French. Also includes parents and teachers sections with read aloud books.
Worldreader
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Ensure that teachers have the necessary skills, motivation, and support to teach in the mother tongue.

Implementers should provide appropriate training for teachers to ensure they are equipped with the language skills needed to teach in the mother tongue, and are provided with ongoing support. It is also important that teachers understand the value of mother-tongue instruction and are active champions of the approach.

Supporting and Assessing Reading and Writing

This is a teacher's guide that provides examples of activities for students to practice reading and writing in local languages and in English, and offers tips on assessment.
Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)
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Ways toward Fluency and Accuracy

This guide provides examples of activities students for students that can help them learn a second language.
Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)
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Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)

Learn about the Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP), which provides support to the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sport in implementing mother tongue instruction for grades 1-3 and invests in teacher training to support teachers who teach in the mother tongue.
Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)
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Mother Tongue-based Literacy Programmes: Case Studies of Good Practice in Asia

This compilation of seven case studies of mother tongue-based literacy programs in Asia identifies the impact of the projects, common challenges faced, and recommendations based on the experiences.
UNESCO (2007)
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Supporting the use of the mother tongue and the official language

Page 48 of this document gives practical tips for what teachers can do to incorporate the mother-tongue into their classroom, while also delivering instruction in the official language.
UNESCO
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Ensure community cooperation, understanding, and buy-in.

Parents and community members may be resistant to mother-tongue instruction, as fluency in the official language is often seen as enabling upward mobility. Practitioners should clearly communicate the benefits of mother-tongue instruction and involve the community in particular aspects of the program (e.g., design, observation, evaluation).

Mother Tongue-based Education in Northern Uganda

Learn more about LABE’s Mother Tongue-based Education program (MTE). MTE includes families and communities as integral to its approach to mother-tongue education. Activities take place in home learning centers, which serve as multi-purpose learning spaces where educational programs for preschoolers, after-school learning for in-school children, and parenting or family literacy for adults are carried out. The major facilitators for this program are community volunteers known as "parent educators" who are selected by community members and trained by local primary school teachers.
Literacy and Adult Basic Education Uganda
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Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)

Learn about the Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP), which provides support to the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sport in implementing mother tongue instruction for grades 1-3 and invests in teacher training to support teachers who teach in the mother tongue.
Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)
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Northern Uganda Literacy Program

Explore a case study of the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which works to provide effective and affordable language instruction resources and community support for local language learning in Uganda and creates teaching and learning materials (e.g. primers and readers) in multiple languages.
Mango Tree
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Worlds in the Making

Explore a case study of Worlds in the Making, which is developing and testing tri-lingual primers for students in Punjab, Pakistan.
Simorgh Pakistan
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Advocacy Kit for Promoting Multilingual Education

Pages 20-21 of the "Booklet for Program Implementers" section detail the importance of providing mother tongue reading materials.
UNESCO, 2007
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Working with Families and Communities to Create an Inclusive Learning-Friendly Environment

Booklet 2 (beginning on page 59) provides guidance on contacting families and communities, keeping regular contact, and building support for school activities. This resource is not specific to mother-tongue education but gives useful tips for building community-buy in to school efforts.
UNESCO
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Improving the Quality of Mother Tongue-based Literacy and Learning: Case Studies from Asia, Africa, and South America

This compilation of case studies from Asia, Africa, and South America identifies common themes among successful programs and emphasizes the importance of developing mother tongue materials and appropriate instructional methods.
UNESCO (2008)
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Mother Tongue Matters: Local Language as a Key to Effective Learning

This report studies four case studies (Mali, Papua New Guinea, Peru, United States) of mother tongue-based bilingual education programs, identifying their potential to help improve children’s learning outcomes and challenges to successful implementation of such programs.
UNESCO (2008)
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First Language First: Community-Based Literacy Programmes for Priority Language Contexts in Asia

This report provides a summary of a workshop for community-based literacy programs utilizing the mother tongue, including tips on developing teaching/learning materials, on training facilitators, and on evaluating the program.
UNESCO (2005)
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Foster a supportive political environment and raise awareness at local, sub-national, and national levels.

A supportive political environment - at the local, sub-national, and national level - is important to ensure successful uptake of mother-tongue instruction. Practitioners should communicate to policymakers the benefits and value of mother-tongue instruction and involve government in the program when possible.

Advocacy Kit for Promoting Multilingual Education

Pages 20-21 of the "Booklet for Program Implementers" section detail the importance of providing mother tongue reading materials.
UNESCO, 2007
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ARED - Associates in Research and Education for Development

ARED implemented a bilingual education program in primary schools in Senegal.
ARED Senegal

Mother Tongue Matters: Local Language as a Key to Effective Learning

This report studies four case studies (Mali, Papua New Guinea, Peru, United States) of mother tongue-based bilingual education programs, identifying their potential to help improve children’s learning outcomes and challenges to successful implementation of such programs.
UNESCO (2008)
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When needed, develop an orthography that is acceptable to the community and the government.

A local language may not have a set writing system. The process of developing a writing system can take some time (involving developing language surveys, conducting analysis, and creating and testing trial systems) and should be done in close collaboration with local language boards.

Advocacy Kit for Promoting Multilingual Education

Pages 20-21 of the "Booklet for Program Implementers" section detail the importance of providing mother tongue reading materials.
UNESCO, 2007
View

Northern Uganda Literacy Program

Explore a case study of the Northern Uganda Literacy Program, which works to provide effective and affordable language instruction resources and community support for local language learning in Uganda and creates teaching and learning materials (e.g. primers and readers) in multiple languages.
Mango Tree
View

Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)

Learn about the Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP), which provides support to the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sport in implementing mother tongue instruction for grades 1-3 and invests in teacher training to support teachers who teach in the mother tongue.
Uganda School Health and Reading Program (SHRP)
View

Improving the Quality of Mother Tongue-based Literacy and Learning: Case Studies from Asia, Africa, and South America

This compilation of case studies from Asia, Africa, and South America identifies common themes among successful programs and emphasizes the importance of developing mother tongue materials and appropriate instructional methods.
UNESCO (2008)
View

Mother Tongue-based Literacy Programmes: Case Studies of Good Practice in Asia

This compilation of seven case studies of mother tongue-based literacy programs in Asia identifies the impact of the projects, common challenges faced, and recommendations based on the experiences.
UNESCO (2007)
View

First Language First: Community-Based Literacy Programmes for Priority Language Contexts in Asia

This report provides a summary of a workshop for community-based literacy programs utilizing the mother tongue, including tips on developing teaching/learning materials, on training facilitators, and on evaluating the program.
UNESCO (2005)
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Featured Case Studies

These case studies provide examples of how mother-tongue instruction is used in practice. Explore the links below for detailed accounts of mother-tongue instruction in featured organizations.

ARED - Associates in Research and Education for Development

ARED implemented a bilingual education program in primary schools in Senegal.

ARED Senegal

Northern Uganda Literacy Program

This program focuses on improving literacy skills in primary grade 1-3 students through using the mother-tongue as the language of instruction.

Mango Tree

Worlds in the Making

Explore a case study of Worlds in the Making, which is developing and testing tri-lingual primers for students in Punjab, Pakistan.

Simorgh Pakistan

Additional Programs

Click the links below to view profiles of programs using mother-tongue instruction.

Mother-Tongue Education Project

The Mother Tongue Education (MTE) project seeks to increase meaningful access to primary education for marginalized children through advocacy, training, and development of resources to enable primary level instruction in students' mother tongue.
LABE and Africa Educational Trust Uganda
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Read-Learn-Lead

Institut pour l-Education Populaire (IEP)’s Read-Learn-Lead program provides students and teachers with structured lessons, activities, and materials for learning and instruction of early reading skills in the children’s mother language.
Institut pour l-Education Populaire Mali
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Speed Schools

The Stromme Foundation’s Speed School program provides out-of-school children in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso with an accelerated program to prepare for re-entry into the public school system, the first two months of which are taught in the mother tongue before transitioning to French.
Stromme Foundation
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Biblionef Book Donation Program

Biblionef donates books to under-resourced students and adults in 11 South African indigenous languages.
Biblionef South Africa
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eSchool360

eSchool360 aims to reinvent education in rural Zambia by providing a comprehensive, scaleable, and sustainable one-stop-shop "kit" for starting and running a school that incorporates e-learning and active learning. The curriculum, written by experienced Zambian teachers and available in English as well as eight local languages.
Impact Network Zambia
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Explore rigorous research and analysis showing how mother-tongue instruction can lead to improved learning.

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Mother Tongue and Reading: Using Early Grade Reading Assessments to Investigate Language-of-Instruction Policy in East Africa

In this study, the authors use EGRA to collect data on mother-tongue instruction in Kenya and Uganda and provide analysis of key trends.
Piper, B, and Miksic, E., 2011
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Blog Post: Children Learn Better in their Mother Tongue

This blog post summarizes current research on mother tongue-based education.
Ball, J. 2014
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Improving the Quality of Mother Tongue-based Literacy and Learning: Case Studies from Asia, Africa, and South America

This compilation of case studies from Asia, Africa, and South America identifies common themes among successful programs and emphasizes the importance of developing mother tongue materials and appropriate instructional methods.
UNESCO (2008)
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Language Issues in Comparative Education

This book discusses education for non-dominant language communities in relation to cultural and power issues, providing 15 chapters focused on different countries or regions.
Beson, C. and Kosonen, K., 2013
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Negotiating Intercultural Identities in the Multilingual Classroom

This paper, written with a North American audience in mind but also applicable elsewhere, argues that rejecting a student's primary language can have harmful effects on student self-perception and his or her academic success.
Cummins, J., 2000
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Language and Education: The Missing Link

This report for policymakers and donors discusses the key role of language of instruction in schooling for children in developing countries, especially in rural areas.
Save the Children
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The Effects of First-and-Second-Language Instruction in Rural South African Schools

The READ program in South Africa, which provided culturally relevant reading materials in the mother tongue and included an intensive teacher training and development component, found students in intervention schools to perform better than those in control schools.
Sailors et al., 2010
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The Importance of Mother Tongue-based Schooling for Educational Quality

This paper reviews the need for mother tongue-based bilingual education in developing countries and the kinds of policies and programs that have been introduced to support mother-tongue education.
Benson, C., 2004
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Mother Tongue-based Literacy Programmes: Case Studies of Good Practice in Asia

This compilation of seven case studies of mother tongue-based literacy programs in Asia identifies the impact of the projects, common challenges faced, and recommendations based on the experiences.
UNESCO (2007)
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First Language First: Community-Based Literacy Programmes for Priority Language Contexts in Asia

This report provides a summary of a workshop for community-based literacy programs utilizing the mother tongue, including tips on developing teaching/learning materials, on training facilitators, and on evaluating the program.
UNESCO (2005)
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Enhancing Learning of Children from Diverse Language Backgrounds: Mother Tongue-based Bilingual or Multilingual Education in the Early Years

This literature review provides an overview of mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education and recommends 1) raising awareness of the importance of mother tongue-based instruction, 2) supporting governments in promoting such programs, 3) recruiting teachers who are fluent in the language and providing pre-service and in-service teacher education, and 4) promoting policies that acknowledge parents as first teachers.
UNESCO, 2011
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Mother Tongue Matters: Local Language as a Key to Effective Learning

This report studies four case studies (Mali, Papua New Guinea, Peru, United States) of mother tongue-based bilingual education programs, identifying their potential to help improve children’s learning outcomes and challenges to successful implementation of such programs.
UNESCO (2008)
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Mother Tongue Education: Policy Lessons for Quality and Inclusion

This policy brief uses evidence from around the world to emphasize the importance of mother tongue-based education, which can lead to stronger literacy development and better learning outcomes in general.
Global Campaign for Education
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Mali Speed School Impact Evaluation: Summary Report

The Speed School program provided out-of-school children in Mali with an accelerated 9-month program to enable them to enter into primary school afterwards, the first two months of which were taught in the mother tongue before transitioning to French. An evaluation of the program found that it led to learning improvements in French and math.
IPA, 2015
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Early Reading: Igniting Education for All

This report reviews the state of early literacy in developing countries and outlines a number of recommendations, including putting in place language policies that support mother tongue instruction.
RTI International, 2010
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Policy Paper 24: If you don’t understand, how can you learn?

This policy paper, released for International Mother Language Day, argues that being taught in a language other than their own can negatively impact children’s learning. It shows the importance of teacher training and inclusive supporting materials to improve the learning experience of these children, and provide them with a resilient path of achievement in life.
UNESCO
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