Thursday, March 09, 2006

kids and their mother tongue

This post has been inspired by Vikrum's. Ever since I came to this country and observed how parents here try to instill some thing of their roots in their offsprings, I have been affected by this side of parenting. Teaching your kids to speak your language.

To me, it is more to help them be at home when visiting with family and friends. It is also a bit about passing on what (little) I know of my culture. I try to have writing sessions every Saturday in Tamil. It is not too hard to learn to write the alphabets and to read fluently. My problem has always been writing. I cannot write as well as I do in English. So teaching my kids write, in a way helps me too.

I have always encouraged them to learn languages. Both my husband and I are polyglots and would like that for our kids too. It is not just about the mother/father tongue. And learning a new language before they turn 5 helps them speak better in that language.

I remember being shocked at this dad who would not speak to his son if he didn't speak in Bangla. Now, I do that too. May be not at that strict a level. When we lived in Florida, we had quite a few hispanics in our neighborhood. All the kids spoke fluent Spanish. For that matter, most Gujarati kids speak their language quite fluently.

Is it because they hear it more? We try that too. We make it a point to speak only tamil at home. The kids understand quite well, if they have to speak, they stumble, but they try. I am glad for that. In order to learn, you have to be receptive. So, we let them struggle and help if necessary, but I have hope that they will be fluent soon.

Most parents don't want to try. Nothing is easy. Everything takes effort. I remember the early years of struggling to learn Hindi. What does help is to hear it spoken often. They don't have to become scholars in that language, but enough to be comfortable with it. We have boundaries, while at home and with other tamils, speak it. I don't force it, but say that this is the only way they can learn.

When we have the grandparents visiting, their tamil seems to come easier. Watching tamil on TV helps too, unfortunately, there are very few age appropriate programs/movies for them. They might never read and enjoy Ponniyin Selvan in the original form, but if they can share a joke from anantha vikatan with you, that in itself is something. And who knows, may be someday they will want to read Ponniyin Selvan all by themselves.


madsies said... 2 and half yr old...talks to me in English outside the house (i mean anywhere and everywhere) and talks to me in "our" language @home.
yea, thanks to "Dora" she has picked some word of Spanish too.

Villain said...

well as long as we dont let the kids become ABCDs or u know let them mingle with the so called high class crowd that thinks talking tamil is taboo its pretyt good here.. i see a lot of tamil kids raised in basically orthodox families getting totally hayware after attending high school here.. they think being american is cool.. but to me being indian is more important.. the parents should probably advice kids that talking your mother tongue is no taboo.. of course english is important but definitely worth considering is taking steps to learn our mother tongue and our culture..

Munimma said...

Madhu, They are going to live here, so assimilation is important. They need to be part of the crowd. But they also need to realize that they are individuals. You can't be what someone else is.
There is a delicate balance between where you are heading and where you come from. It is not easy, but it can be done. Children do and will go through such phases. We need to give them time and space to make their own mistakes and learn from them. But that is a topic for another day.

It is always good to learn something new, you don't lose anything there.

Me too said...

A few of my relatives' kids started talking only after starting school. So, they speak only English even though their parents speak Tamil at home.
My daughter speaks Tamil fluently now but most people comment that this won't continue for long! :(
Wow! That's really nice to know that your children are learning to write in Tamil!

Munimma said...

me too, whether she continues or not, is up to you. I have some distant cousins-in-law whose kids speak in pure palghat tamil even now. Usually they don't forget the language if they keep hearing it and get to speak at least now and then.

my older one is learning; the younger learnt the first alphabet and she got shy and ran away :-)
I plan to wait a bit and start again.

Vikrum said...

Hi Munimma,

Thanks for the comment on my blog and the link to my post. I think it's great that you are teaching Tamil to your children. This is a lasting and enduring gift. With the ability to speak Tamil, they will always have a connection to the culture.

WA said...

Nice job Munimma, junior here speaks Tamil slightly broken Tamil but reasonably good. On the other hand he doesn't read/write in Tamil though, maybe one day soon.

Sunil said...

it's just by accident (or location or what ever) that i spoke one language at home, another on the streets, and another (english) in school/work etc, and had another (hindi) as my second language. But it's one of the best accidents that ever happened to me.

I just hope that some day, if i have kids, they'll have a similar accident.

Anonymous said...

I guess it all depends on parents and exposure. There are some good children's books in Tamil that one can read to kids as bedtimes stories. More than that, it's just about speaking the language often enough with them and keeping it alive in the house. I think if parents are adamant enough about teaching children from a young age, it's easier on them. My sisters and I picked up Tamil that way. Even the one that was born here can speak fluently without a problem.

My relatives start speaking in Tamil with their children first, b/c they kids learn english quickly enough at school.