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Importance of language in learning process

Educational Journey with EPHAT MUDENDA
THE primary medium in the learning process is language. All that a learner at any level of the education system is expected to grasp is either heard or read.

As a person progresses, even in their career path, one’s skills can only be demonstrated, to a great extent, through words or written language.
It is said that human beings are born illiterate, as human survival is not dependent upon the written word. However, the fact is that language development can either negatively or positively affect one’s learning process because now we live in a ‘text-rich’ environment in which individuals need to be able to read so as to be ‘educated’.
When we consider language as being a common item in the education process, we have in mind a child growing up, and that whatever he or she hears has a greater effect than what he/she sees. Then one begins to learn to speak through listening to the sounds created by people around them. Eventually they start attaching meanings to those sounds. It is such sounds that, later, one takes and relates to the written text. This is not a simple process.
Whether we talk of the need for children to learn in their mother tongues at lower primary, or a foreign/second language – English in the Zambian set-up – at the upper primary, secondary and tertiary levels, language, in general, is always an important part of an educational path. Everything that is learnt and taught is based on and expressed through language.
It could be Nyanja, Chewa, Bemba, Lozi, Luvale, Tonga, English or French; the principal idea as learners sit in class and listen to their teachers is simply to put across information and skills through the use of language. As an individual increases one’s ability and use of language, they eventually increase their ability not only to learn, but also to share knowledge with others around them. And increasing language skills makes one become a more valuable part of a community. After all, linguistic skills are highly prized, both monetarily and communally.
As a basis for all communication, language in the educational set-up is of vital importance in putting across developmental thoughts, information and data. Therefore, in order for a sender of a message to be able to send that message – to ensure that the message is received and then have it interpreted correctly and understood properly – there must be a common language. Hence, it follows that in schools, teachers and students must understand each other, linguistically, so that communication of ideas and information is passed effectively.
In simple terms, if a teacher cannot speak the same language as the learners in his or her classroom, then ideas and information cannot be passed along. It is in this vein that there is need to emphasise the fact that language is, indeed, the common item in education. A common language not only helps develop one’s linguistic skills, but also expands the cognitive (thinking) abilities of an individual. Such a language, for instance English in the Zambian curriculum, opens up opportunities for one to study at various international universities and enables them to interact with people and cultures at different levels.
A learner’s language development does not have to be in the dominant language of their society. Neither should it be restricted to one language. After all, it is believed that using several languages in itself is ‘intelligent’. Depending on the kind of environment where one finds himself or herself later in life, code-switching may simply prove to be a vital part of one’s survival. Then it will be thanks to the education system.