Born in a Sikh family, I managed to grasp the basic vocalizing skills required for my mother tongue Punjabi. My uncle once taught me to read and write Punjabi as well, but at that point of time, I didn’t give it much importance only to regret later.
My grandfather was a learned man. He was a polyglot and was well versed with English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. He used to write articles for various magazines and newspapers in these languages. I used to think that one day when I grow old, I will also learn many languages, but I couldn’t because I never tried.
My grandma, on the other hand, used to ask me not to speak in mother tongue, just because she feared that I may lag behind in school and may not be able to cope up with other children. So, I hardly spoke to her or anyone else at home in Punjabi. Though, I was well aware of this language, because all the elders in the house used to communicate in mother tongue only.
My father, however, used to emphasize speaking in English, that being the universal language. And I used to tell him that in school, we were already conversing in English, so at least at home, give a break!
It’s only after I cleared my X boards that I started talking to my grandma in Punjabi. I was hesitant initially, but the more I spoke, the more confident I became. That’s how happens with every language.
After my marriage, when we went to Shanghai, we were amazed to see the majority of the people didn’t know how to communicate in English. Being the world’s second-largest economy, people didn’t know English! We had troubles initially, but later on, it was fun. People of our age group and the elderly usually didn’t speak or know English so they would ask their school going children to be translators for us. At that time, I realised that no matter how much expert is a person in his/her native language, he/she must also be open to learning other languages, especially English, which is used globally.
We moved to Karnataka last year from NCR and chose CBSE board school for our elder son so that in future if we change the city, the board remains the same. However, recently, the state government has made the rule of making Kannada as the second language to be taught, replacing Hindi, (the first language being English). Currently, it’s being taught as the third language, where difficulty level is very low. With this news, we were initially perturbed, but later on were relieved when our son’s school agreed to continue Hindi language also, without changing its level. Children pick up languages so well and I am glad he’s getting exposure to a new language here. People often boast of schools teaching international languages, but I guess it’s always better to learn our regional languages first. However, making a particular language mandatory should not be the rule. In fact, the children should be free to choose any language at their will.
Culture should not be imposed. It has to be imbibed. As parents, we should speak to our children in the mother tongue more often. My son tries to speak in Punjabi with my parents and I encourage him to do that because that way he will become more confident as a learner. Who knows he might be a multilinguist one day!