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Mother Tongue Literacy Programs

SIL field workers partner alongside community members to develop language programs that train local literacy workers and promote the use of the mother tongue in formal and non-formal education settings.

"Literacy programmes are indispensable because literacy is a necessary skill in itself and the foundation of other life skills. Literacy in the mother tongue strengthens cultural identity and heritage." (World Declaration on Education for All. Jomtien, 1990)

Normally a national language is used in most educational settings. However, the national language can be a major obstacle in gaining literacy skills for those who do not speak it. When the language of instruction is not the mother tongue, it places double demands on the learner; first the demand of language acquisition and second that of literacy learning.

Rather than forcing that double burden on the learner, SIL begins with literacy in the mother tongue both for instruction and for the content of the materials. This focus is particularly important in literacy programs for women in developing countries since they have fewer opportunities to hear and practice the national language than do their male counterparts. Of course, both men and women are disadvantaged if they do not have the opportunity to learn in a language they best understand. Many speakers of ethnic languages who can not read or write were not able to learn to do so because of the language of instruction and the lack of an opportunity to learn first in their mother tongue.

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