L1 & L2

Mother tongue or L1 has been known to be the learner’s best language. This is the first language that a person is taught and uses at early age while being a child rather than the one learnt at school. (Benson & Kosonen,2012). People may have different mother tongues – thus called bi-/multilingual. In different scenarios such as social, economic and political platforms, the learner’s L1 are considered non-dominant languages (NDLs) in relation to the more dominant languages (DLs) (Kasonen & Benson 2013). Majority of school curriculums want the students to be equipped with high ability in DL which is commonly known as a “second language” (L2). L2 is a terminology borrowed from North American usage of two languages in their education that means a language used in the learning institution or in the society meeting. It is learned after gaining some experience in the usage L1 and draws largely with the learners’ ability to use it outside of the classroom. In multilingual countries, L2 usually new to the learners and their primary resource in learning is the teacher whose own mastery of the language maybe limited. Assumption cannot be made that the learners are not engaged in practicing the language while out of the classroom, then terminology Lx is thus used for an extra language that learners can be taught in the curriculum.

One of the major methods of teaching of language in class is called the mother tongue – based multilingual education (MTB MLE) or L1-based MLE (UNESCO 2013). This approach involves teaching the fundamental literacy (read and writing) in the L1, then teaching Lx as an extra language using the most suitable approach, while gently enhancing the reading skills from L1 to Lx through bilingual means. The advantage of this approach is that the reading skills using different languages are taught only once in a life (Bialystock et al., 2005). Heugh, (2011) reported that for an effective language and literacy development, it takes a minimum of five to seven years when adequate resourced are provided. 

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The L1-based programs uses the mother tongue for about a span of three years which is refers to as “early-exit transitional” model. Alidou & Brock-Utne (2011) found that while this model is better that ignoring the L1, it is assumed not a strong approach since it fails to provide a better baseline in the L1 nor sufficient Lx as language of instruction (LOI) (Cummins 2009). The curriculum shifts from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” at around grade 3. This system forces the learners to get all of the instruction through use of Lx which doesn’t allow them to it through show of willingness. 

Though research has described that individuals are more experienced in early-exit bilingual programs that in monolingual L programs, no much difference can be derived from this for two reasons: first, L is used while doing assessment to the learners thus, it fails to allow the learners express what they are capable in their L1: and secondly, learners are not allowed to have a window period to gain the experiences needed to graduatethe cross-linguistic transfer (Cummins 2009). If the study of L1 is extended through the end of the primary cycle, the learners would improve on the early-exit programs as well as maintain their L1 literacy skills which are transferable to Lx.

The relevant linguistic and information of the programs could be obtained from various sources. Ethnologue is the most powerful data mine in the universe  for living language. National data such as the census could be useful since questions have been asked in the most suitable language. Collection of information and data starting at the small-scale rural or local levels, in small, are assumed to be more coherent and genuine. The table below illustrates information that can be mobilized as resources for the initial, expansion and maintenance of L1-based MLE programs.

Relevant linguistic and educational information

Category Information neededPotential source of information
National policies 
Language policyLanguages that are given particular status over others e.g. official or nationalProtection or rights guaranteed based on background of their culture wand linguistic diversityHow policies are operationalized and enforcedConstitution LawsSigned international treaties
Educational language policyThe purpose why a language is to be used in education and howProficiency required at a particular point of the education systemThe various provisions for learner’ L1s in education and the durationHow policies are operationalized and enforcedMinistry of education, policy, curriculum guidelines and procedural documents
The ConstitutionEducation laws
Linguistic policies 
Linguistic and social-linguisticThe language spoken in different regions and by different age groupsThe reason and the common levels of bi- or multilingualism The degree to what the different age groups are How close are the L1 and Lx linguistic  National censusDemographic surveysNGOsLanguage mapping &University linguistsMinistry of cultureRadio broadcaster
Orthographic and literacy – related What are the agreed orthographic for each language, and up to what level does the agreement cover if there exists more than two writing stylesFor each language, how many mature speakers are proficient in which languageFor the teachers of orthographic agreements  of the L1 educattion, what level of training do they requireHow close are the L1 &Lx orthographically writing systems shared)University linguistic departmentEthnonlogue (lewis et al.,2016)NGOGovernment ministeries of education 
School and community-based
Learners’ linguistic skillsThe number of languages spoken, the region and the number of children joining learning institution sAny member of the family associated in the linguistic profession and which language do they applyThe number of L1s types or varieties spoken in a community and the way learners are organizedThe degree which the learners are exposed to Lx outside the schoollanguage mapping
District or school based
Self-reports by families when enrolling children
Self-reports by learners
Teachers-family discussions
Language mapping 
Teacher’s linguistic skills The levels of teachers’ proficiency in oral and written languages of leanersHow are the teacher placed depending on the experiences and the abilities of the learners’ L1s and the LxHow are the teachers organized when a community or a classroom has one or more Spoken How are the qualified teachers help in teaching L1 when there are cases of limited resources for L?District or school based recordsTeacher placement recordsTeacher self-reportsPrincipal reports

The table below describes how language can be evaluated to the student. The focus has been identified, a question is asked, and an aim is specified.

Intention QueryTarget 
The first assessmentAre the languages of the new learners assessed?Yes 
First assessment on  language If  yes, to what extent?Oral test, family survey, language mapping
Placement by L1Does the method of assessment applied allow the learner to be suitably placed to increase their L1 eperience?Yes (Yes (note that multigrade classes may be organized by language)
Diagnosis of Lx needsIs the individual learner’s level of oral competence inLx determined by the mode of assessment Yes (it is worth noting that the learners skills should be built by the multilingual 
Assessment of initial literacy in L1Is the assessment done by individuals in the L1including  decoding together with the four language skills?Yes (at least through end of primary)
Assessment of L1 developmentIs continuing L1 development individually assessed, including all four language skills, grammar and genres?Yes (at least through end of primary)
Assessment of Lx learningAt every stage of learning, is the Lx assessed at the suitable level (oral, then written based on transfer) 

L1 assessment of content learning 
Is L1 competence tested at the appropriate stage? Yes (giving attention to on content, not language correctness
Bilingual assessment of content learning

Are both  bi/multilingual assessment done for the contents taught in both languagesYes (giving attention to on content, not language correctness

National/standard assessment of languages
Are L1&Lxassessments covered by the national/standard of the systemYes (all languages in the system should be categorized and evaluated)


Benson, C. (2016). Addressing Language of Instruction Issues in Education: Recommendations for Documenting Progress.

Benson, C., & Wong, K. M. (2015). Development discourse on language of instruction and literacy: Sound policy and Ubuntu or lip service?. Reconsidering Development, 4(1).

Bialystok, E., Luk, G., & Kwan, E. (2005). Bilingualism, biliteracy, and learning to read: Interactions among languages and writing systems. Scientific studies of reading, 9(1), 43-61.

Cummins, J. (2009). Fundamental psycholinguistic and sociological principles underlying educational success for linguistic minority learners. Social justice through multicultural education. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.Ouane, A., & Glanz, C. (2011). Optimising Learning, Education and Publishing in Africa: The Language Factor–A Review and Analysis of Theory and Practice in Mother-Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Feldbrunnenstrasse 58, 20148 Hamburg, Germany.

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