31 December 2014

Love languages, not fear them

My toddler's language skills are pretty advanced in both her mother tongues - Kannada and Bengali. I don't teach her English per se, but she has learned quite a bit of that, too, as there's always some English in the environment. That was the precisely the reason why I am not emphasizing on English at this point, because she cannot escape English and ultimately, she'll learn it.

I am concerned that she'll lose one of her mother tongues or both to English once she starts going to school, because I see quite a few young Indians today converse completely in English. If you talk to them in their mother tongue, they do understand, but the reply is in English.

I was recently told that I do need to teach her English or else it may hurt her admission opportunities to schools. Learning language for opportunistic reasons doesn't sound that great to me, though I am aware that quite a bit of language learning is opportunistic and language teaching in itself is a huge business.

Still, there is a difference between learning languages because you're curious about it, the culture, or the people who speak it, and learning something just because you want to advance your business or fear that you may be left behind if you don't learn it.

Language is a lot about curiosity. That's the only way children learn about new words, when they keep asking 'what', 'why', and 'how. And of course, by listening to all the language around them.

There could be nothing better than learning about another culture and I don't think this can be intimately done without speaking the language of that culture. And, power languages like English can easily ruin this process of discovery. Well, only if you let them.

I studied in an English-medium school and use English for work and personal expression, as in this blog. But I was also among the few students in my class who were comfortable in their mother tongue, too. I have never written professionally in Kannada and that could be the reason I perhaps don't feel as confident in it, but that's just a matter of practice.

I have always loved reading Shivaram Karanth, Jayanth Kaykini, to name a few Kannada authors. In my mind, there is no power equation between English and Kannada, but I am aware that it exists. That's why I am saddened when I see a lot of young Kannadigas grow up completely detached from a beautiful and diverse culture, inspite of being physically located in it. And, this is true for a lot of other young Indians. Often, they do not know how to count beyond 10 or 50 in their language.

Parents are a child's first connection with their culture and their language. So, they do have a responsibility to introduce children to their roots and keep the connection going. This can be done in a fun way by introducing them to rhymes, stories, or children's movies in their languages. With a lot of Indian language content now moving online than before, this isn't particularly tough to do. Publishers like Pratham Books are also a good source.

Learn languages because you love them, because you're curious about the world like a child is. Or maybe, come home to your own language. 

No comments: