Mother Tongue Essay Summary Generator


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From Theory to Practice



In the essay “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan explains that she “began to write stories using all the Englishes I grew up with.” How these “different Englishes” or even a language other than English contribute to identity is a crucial issue for adolescents.

In this lesson, students explore this issue by brainstorming the different languages they use in speaking and writing, and when and where these languages are appropriate. They write in their journals about a time when someone made an assumption about them based on their use of language, and share their writing with the class. Students then read and discuss Amy Tan's essay “Mother Tongue.” Finally, they write a literacy narrative describing two different languages they use and when and where they use these languages.

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Discussion Questions for "Mother Tongue": Have students discuss Amy Tan's essay in small groups, using these discussion questions.

Literacy Narrative Assignment: This handout describes an assignment in which students write a literacy narrative exploring their use of different language in different settings.

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NCTE has long held a commitment to the importance of individual student's language choices. In the 1974 Resolution on the Students' Right to Their Own Language, council members "affirm[ed] the students' right to their own language-to the dialect that expresses their family and community identity, the idiolect that expresses their unique personal identity." The Council reaffirmed this resolution in 2003, "because issues of language variation and education continue to be of major concern in the twenty-first century to educators, educational policymakers, students, parents, and the general public."

Rebecca Wheeler and Rachel Swords assert that: "the child who speaks in a vernacular dialect is not making language errors; instead, she or he is speaking correctly in the language of the home discourse community. Teachers can draw upon the language strengths of urban learners to help students codeswitch-choose the language variety appropriate to the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose. In doing so, we honor linguistic and cultural diversity, all the while fostering students' mastery of the Language of Wider Communication, the de-facto lingua franca of the U.S."

This lesson focuses on ways to investigate the issues of language and identity in the classroom in ways that validate the many languages that students use. To help students gain competence in their ability to choose the right language usage for each situation, explorations of language and identity in the classroom are vital in raising students' awareness of the languages they use and the importance of the decisions that they make as they communicate with others.

Further Reading

Wheeler, Rebecca and Rachel Swords. "Codeswitching: Tools of Language and Culture Transform the Dialectally Diverse Classroom." Language Arts 81.6 (July 2004): 470-480.


Delpit, Lisa, and Joanne Kilgour Dowdy. 2002. The Skin that We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom. New York: New Press.

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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.

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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

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).


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

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 TreeUganda

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

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

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.


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

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)

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.

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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

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.


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 EducationUganda

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)

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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