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Speak Setswana to your children

This comment could have been written in Setswana. Chances though are that many of the readers for whom it is intended would either not read it or would simply find making out Setswana words a chore.

We say this because, increasingly, we find more and more Batswana whose native language is Setswana, choosing not to speak the language to their children. Whatever their reasons, the high numbers are shocking and confusing at the same time. Could it be these parents have been persuaded to believe that speaking Setswana to their children will hurt them socially or academically? Could it be they believe the English language is spoken in a lot of places and that their children would fit better into other English speaking communities if they spoke English? Do they do it because they feel it is more prestigious? Whatever the reason, failure to speak to children in their native tongue, such that they cannot speak the language is not wise. The simple reason is because their parents’ language is the one in which they are likely to be most dominant or proficient.  Consequently, it is the language in which they are able to provide quality language input.

For those parents who grew up speaking Setswana and only learnt English at school – some only started really speaking it at grade six or seven - their vocabulary, grammar skills, and ease of communication remain stronger in Setswana.  So they will certainly impart proper grammar skills and vocabulary if they use their mother tongue. On the reverse, they are likely to impart bad grammar and vocabulary, especially if their English language is not polished.

It is rather embarrassing to hear a parent whose native language is Setswana disgorging a lot of bad grammar to their child in a busy shopping complex as other non-Setswana speaking tribes and nationalities within the same radius proudly chat or instruct their children in their mother tongue.

Perhaps these parents believe they are giving their children a good foundation of the English language.  Granted, it may help the child, especially if the parents’ English language grammar skills and vocabulary are good, but it comes at a cost to the foundation of the child’s native language. In fact research has shown that children with strong first language skills are more ready and able to learn a second language such as English. So, failing to speak your native language with your child will only hurt his or her language growth, and long-term negative effects will be inevitable. So today, why don’t you pause a moment and try speaking to your child in your native Setswana? Other Botswana tribes among them the various San groups, Herero, Kalanga, Subiya, Wayeyi, Hambukushi etc are proudly doing it. All other visiting peoples from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe do it. By speaking Setswana to your child you will be helping to keep the language alive.

Today’s thought

I think English is a fantastic rich and musical language, but of course your mother tongue is the most important for an actor


– Max von Sydow




The Parliamentary DIS

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