Using Mother Tongue Instruction to Teach an Additional Language
October 3, 2023

Before we unpack this topic, let us quickly look at the definition of mother tongue is. Pather & Greyling, 2020, define mother tongue as one of the following aspects:

  • The language that an individual learns first.
  • The language with which an individual identifies, or is referred to as a native speaker of the language by other individuals.
  • The language that an individual knows fairly well and uses frequently. Furthermore, mother tongue could also refer to an individual’s primary or first language.

The process of learning a language is socially ingrained. This means that language learning occurs within families, cultural communities, and other social environments and institutions. It is critical as a Grade R teacher that you consider this key characteristic of learning a language when planning developmentally appropriate lessons and activities for language learning in English as an additional language.

Using mother tongue instruction to teach an additional language is encouraged in Grade R to prepare learners for formal learning in Grade 1. The reality in school is that we have classrooms where there are multiple languages represented in one classroom. The teacher can still create a conducive and stimulating learning environment by:

  • Using one language at a time to give instructions and then repeating the instructions in English.
  • Ensuring the words and instructions used are not a mixture of multiple languages.
  • Exposing learners to symbols/ signs in English. For example, traffic signs, shop signs, and packaging. Teachers can use this as a starting point for children’s emergent literacy in their additional language, for example, by bringing familiar packages or advertisements to class and seeing if the learners can recognize brands. These activities support incidental learning and will motivate the learners to ‘read’ signs outside the classroom and on their way home as well.

There are many more strategies that you can implement to support your learners in acquiring an additional language; do research, make your own resources, and make learning fun and memorable for your learners!


Pather. K, Greyling. S. (2020). English First Additional Language and Literacy Learning

in Grade R 1 (R-FLE 221). SANTS. Lynwood Ridge.


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