At the Breakfast Well, Warda Ahmed and Wisam Elfad spoke about the importance of the mother tongue in early childhood education. They are participating in the ‘Oma kieli, oma mieli’ language project, which aims to make children interested in their own mother tongue in early childhood education so that the desire to learn, speak and read their own mother tongue is retained when they are youngsters and adults.
The project deals with the Somali and Kurdish languages as no teaching materials are available in these languages. Mother-tongue teaching is often provided by parents or older siblings. As a consequence language skills often remain at a low, everyday level, such as let’s brush our teeth or eat, and Warda wondered what kind of level language learning reaches when it is studied somewhere where the language is not spoken. Is 1–2 h/week enough to maintain language skills?
Many parents and educators believe that children should learn Finnish in order to be able to do well. However, when children learn to speak their own mother tongue, this also provides them with a foundation on which to learn Finnish. This is known on the administrative level, but the knowledge has not reached the practical level. As an example Wisam asked: why does a Somali-speaking day care centre teacher speak Finnish to children who also speak Somali?
The ‘Oma kieli, oma mieli’ project has created a toolkit to help children learn their own mother tongue. The children do the things that are usually done at day care centres, but in their own mother tongue. The children write words, and they learn numbers and colours with the help of nursery rhymes.
Wisam thinks that literature should be available that is written in Somali and set in Finland that deals with matters that take place in Finland.
The listeners at the Well agreed that: “All bilingualism is valuable, irrespective of the combination of languages.” We must get away from the idea that learning one language undermines the learning of another language.