Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue Philosophy

The International School of Phnom Penh believes that it is vital that all students have the opportunity to maintain and develop their mother tongue (the main language that the student uses at home), where feasible.

The research relating to mother-tongue maintenance and development (Cummins and Danesi, in Baker and Prys Jones, 1988) is particularly significant. This research indicates that students following a mother-tongue maintenance and development programme receive the following benefits:

  • They avoid language loss and the resultant negative effects, for example, subtractive bilingualism (where the development of a second language is detrimental to the first language).
  • They perform at least as well (often better) in mainstream subjects (science, humanities, etc) as monolingual students.
  • They perform at least as well (often better) as second-language students who don’t maintain their mother tongue and are schooled wholly in the second language.
    They retain a positive attitude toward their mother tongue and cultural background when the school shows acceptance of the mother tongue language, accounting for increased self-esteem and its resultant benefits.

Mother Tongue Programme

The purpose of the programme is to provide the opportunity for all students to develop appropriate skills in their mother tongue according to their age level. The Mother Tongue Programme is not a foreign language course. Therefore children should be proficient in a language, as per their developmental stage, that is typically spoken at home by at least one parent. To make a best-fit placement based on each student’s language profile, the school may determine if a particular student meets the requirements to join a Mother Tongue class.

In the Elementary School, there are two ways in which students may maintain their Mother Tongue:

  • Starting in Grade 2, students take Mother Tongue classes in the timetable instead of a foreign language with a tutor of the school’s choosing. Mother Tongue Khmer and Mandarin are school-supported for all Khmer and Mandarin-speaking students. The school will endeavour to engage teachers for all other mother tongue languages requested, if available.
  • The student studies Mother Tongue after school with a recognised teacher/tutor of the school’s choosing as part of the school’s After School Program.


For further information about the Mother Tongue Programme for PYP students, please contact Ms Elizabeth Ramey, our Mother Tongue Coordinator, at or Ms Liz Ford, Elementary Principal, at

Learn more

Click on a topic below to learn more about our elementary education programme.

ISPP – International School of Phnom Penh