Sunday, May 04, 2014

The tongue that binds

Are you ashamed of the place you were born in? Ashamed of your mother tongue? Do you not want to pass on your cultural and linguistic heritage to the next generation? If not, why don't you speak to your kids in your/their mother tongue ..confound it !!

This behavior of new-age parents living in cities / towns outside their home-state baffles me to the core. Most Indians speak a minimum of 3 languages – their mother tongue, English & Hindi or language of state where they live. Earlier the journey towards mastering or rather at least managing these languages always started with one’s own mother tongue. That's what you hear your parents, grand-parents, relatives, neighbors and friends speak in. Even before stepping into a world of formalized and institutionalized education, the toddler will speak his/her mother tongue with absolute fluency.

With the increasing number of youngster moving out of their home-state, settling and raising a family in far-off metros or aspiring metros, it is inevitable that the young one hears a mix of tongues around him growing up. But why does it have to mean that the parents speak to the kids only in English? For getting ahead in school ? For better pronunciation and accent-neutralization in early age? for seeming hep and with-it? For making your kid the global citizen he is? If not the parents, who will get the kid in touch with their roots? Would the hapless grand-parents with halting English have to make do with sign languages?

Is there is a scientific or logical explanation that speaking their native language to children will hurt them socially or academically? In fact a short googling will show studies which support the fact that children with strong first language skills are more ready and able to learn a second language.  In other words, it’s difficult to build a second language if the first language foundation is not established and supported WHILE the second language is being learned.

A curious exception to the phenomenon is that of kids brought up outside India. There, somehow, I see a higher proportion of parents who make it a matter of principle to get the kid well-versed in their mother-tongue. It is a part of getting them know their cultural heritage. Ofcourse it takes time and effort to teach a kid anything – did anybody say parenting was easy?

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