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Mother Tongue Programme

The Mother Tongue Programme supports both students who cannot be provided with formal tuition in their mother tongue during school hours as well as those MYP and DP students who wish to take a mother tongue language course as part of the curriculum.

Research shows that the development of the student’s mother tongue or first language (usually the language spoken at home) is critical for their cognitive development; children who have not fully developed a first language can experience language-based cognitive difficulties later on.

Students may be fluent in their mother tongue however it is essential that they are also provided with the opportunity to become literate in their first language. The level of linguistic competence a student can achieve in their second language is directly dependent on the extent to which their literacy in the mother tongue has been developed. The student’s sense of cultural and personal identity, and their self-esteem, is also greatly strengthened by mother tongue instruction.


ISH helps organise Mother Tongue classes outside the school curriculum using school facilities at the end of a regular school day and within the school curriculum for MYP and DP students. The lessons are taught by experienced private teachers with whom the parents enter into an agreement about participation and payment. The Mother Tongue Coordinators also assist in finding suitable teachers for these courses. Some programmes, such as Swedish and Dutch, follow the national curriculum of their country.

When students reach IB level, they can choose their first language as an A subject. There are two options. Provided there is a qualified teacher available, students can study at higher or standard level. This option is funded privately by the parents of the student. Alternatively, students can choose what is called the “school-supported” programme which means students can study their mother tongue at standard level and without a teacher.

The students should ideally study the language and literature of their first language prior to entering grade 11. To facilitate and encourage students to choose the above options, the Mother Tongue Programme is offered to both junior school and secondary school students.

There are currently mother tongue programmes for the following languages: Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Hebrew, Russian and Spanish. 

ISH recognises that it takes a lot of time and dedication on the student's part to participate in these courses. In order to support and recognise this, the Mother Tongue course is included on MYP and DP students official school report and transcripts for grades 6 to 10.   



  • Actively encourage the use of the Mother Tongue in the home. It is not useful to speak English to your child in the home if it is not your first language
  • Promote knowledge and interest in your child’s first language by reading or telling stories in their mother tongue.
  • Encourage your child to read novels and textbooks in their mother tongue. Many students retain their fluency in their first language but fail to develop their literacy skills fully.
  • Ensure that your child has a good bilingual dictionary for school.

Mother Tongue Programme at the International School  of Hamburg