Language fixation

This is something that has been there on my mind for a long time. I realized it was time to put it on the blog so that I can stop thinking about it. It usually works that way for me. This blog is like a pensieve where I dump my thoughts so that my brain can free up that much space.

What I have noticed is that almost everyone many people from India who are settled in US talk to their children (no matter how old their children are) in English. Only in English.

Yeah, initially when I realized that some of my cousins cannot converse in my mother tongue and can only talk in English, I was baffled. I thought maybe they were brought up that way. But then I started observing other Indians. And to my surprise, I realized that everyone talks in English. Parents talk in their respective mother tongue when they converse with their spouses or with other relatives, but when it comes to their kids, they talk only in English.

I still have not understood the reason behind this. Is it because conversing in English makes them look ‘cool’? Or is it because they want to assert that they are now Americans and not Indians? Husband says that probably they want their children to be good at English. I can understand that, but what is the harm in atleast teaching them their mother tongue? I mean, what is wrong in learning to converse in multiple languages? We have been doing that. I can converse in 3 languages well – English, Hindi and my mother tongue. I can speak such good Hindi that people think I am from North India sometimes. But that did not make me weak in English or in mother tongue.

[pullquote]“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
― Nelson Mandela[/pullquote]

On a different note, I have never understood this problem people have in learning multiple languages. Language is just a medium to understand or to converse with another person. E.g: If someone’s child can only converse in English, he/she cannot talk to older people like grandparents who are not good at English. If a person cannot learn the local language of a city where he/she is living, he/she cannot mingle with the local people. I see people living in a city for 10-15 years still bragging about not knowing the local language. It is not something to be proud of.

I do not see any harm in learning to converse in multiple languages.

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P.S: I am not trying to judge or interfere in others’ matters (to each their own). I am just curious.
P.P.S: I have tons of photos to process but finding no time for that. Will put some up soon, hopefully with some travelogues. Life has suddenly become too hectic.

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26 thoughts on “Language fixation

  1. As an American, I would love for my kids to know another language. They are taking Spanish in school, but it would be so much easier to learn a second language in the home when they are young. I have a friend who grew up in Spain, and she only speaks to her kids in Spanish (and English to everyone else). They are bilingual and I think that is wonderful. It’s unfortunate that children who could have the opportunity to learn their parents’ native language aren’t being taught – they are missing out on so much.

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  2. Hmm, I don’t know what the situation is in those houses. My daughter knows Tamil our mother tongue but she gets very embarrassed when I speak it with her in front of other people (who are not Tamilians), and so she asks me to speak in English in front of others. If you saw us, you would probably think we were not speaking to her in Tamil, but we do, just not in front of people who don’t know the language.

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  3. I am an Indian living in America and my kids know English only. So I can give you my reason: it’s not because I’might arrogant; it’s because I’m lazy! 🙂

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  4. I go with the ‘multiple-languages’ theory. As a matter of fact, while growing up we used to speak in English at home to improve our communication, but we did not stop talking in Tamil altogether. Some people think it has become a fashion statement, but for some, I just think it’s about feeling comfortable talking in a language which everyone (including NRIs) can understand.

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    • Yeah I think it is okay for people to converse in whichever language they are comfortable in. But here I see that children don’t even understand their mother tongue! That was weird I felt. 🙂

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  5. I am often amused when, during their visits to India, some (mostly elderly) NRIs prefer to speak to their friends and relatives in grammatically not-so-correct English with what they think is an American accent instead of speaking in their mothertongue! I guess it’s their way of reminding people around them that they live abroad.

    You may be interested in reading my post about accents:
    http://proactiveindian.com/2013/09/21/does-accent-define-a-person-ask-pranav-mistry/

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  6. I don’t think its any of the reasons you mentioned Ash. The main reason I think is that most of the kids here start going to daycare pretty early where they can communicate only in English. Think about little children learning to communicate. How hard it must be for them to come home from daycare and switch to leaning a new language. As they grow up, the challenges to teach them good behavior comes up and parent must focus on the most important thing. Not only that, my friends who recently moved from India started talking to their kid in English so that he can communicate at the day care. My 2 yr old who recently came from Chennai suffered a whole day because she could say water in english. She kept on asking for Tanni and teacher had no clue. At home, I have my reasons too. Sometimes, its really a necessity for kids and parents. Of course, this is my opinion.

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  7. Pingback: Life update | Bookish Muggle
  8. Children are specially equipped to learn languages at a young age. I think you’re absolutely right to teach him your mother tongue. He’ll easily be able to pick up both that and English. I have friends in Europe who are polyglots. They soeak Emglish and many other European languages. I wish I was half as fluent! I’m okay at French. Enough to get by, but they’d know I wasn’t a native speaker.

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      • I think his English will be fine since he’ll speak it with his friends/peers at school! Now is the time to teach him Spanish, too. Some people think that kids might get overwhelmed with learning so many languages, but their brains are like sponges at such a young age, and they just soak the information up. I wish I’d been exposed to other languages when I was younger. They didn’t offer them until 8th grade, which is right after time for best language acquisition ends 😦

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