Talking of Languages..

Tulika Books has come out with a blogathon, and here is the first topic……

How different are the written and spoken forms of your first language? If you want children to become familiar with their first language, which form would you look for in children's books - formal or informal? Why?

The minute I read this, I wondered what to write about my mother tongue, which I speak, but barely…. read, just about, and write, not at all…. Contrast this to the fact that I can speak, read and write English, Hindi and Marathi very well, can read and write Sanskrit, and even talk passably good French, in addition to writing and reading well in the language. Add this to the dream I have of learning German some day…. and you will wonder if I ever wanted to learn my mother tongue, which is Tamil.

Growing up in Delhi and Bombay, my mom tried her best to teach me Tamil. My summer vacations were devoted to learning the language with her, and she even brought me loads of books from T.Nagar on our yearly trips, just to tempt me to read, but somehow nothing worked. I picked up the alphabets, and that was just about all I ever learnt. After a few years, seeing my indifference, she gave up, and I must say, I was relieved.

My interest in Tamil re-kindled only with the advent of Sun T.V., by which time I was in college. I struggled to read the names of the films, some of which I enjoyed, and my mom smugly refused to help me out, saying that I had chosen not to learn the language. Well, to cut a long story short, after a lot of trial and error, I managed to recognize enough alphabets to string them together to make sense, but that is all I managed to learn. Today, this helps me read the destinations on buses or boards when I am travelling in Tamilnadu, but no more than that!

It is only off late that I have even become aware of the beauty of Tamil literature, and there are days when I curse myself for not having had the patience to learn the language in spite of a willing teacher, when I picked up foreign languages so quickly. I guess it is never too late, but I hope to learn the language soon, and also teach my son. That brings me to the current topic.

Living in another city, one where we rarely get to hear our mother tongue spoken by others, we speak in such a colloquial way, that it is sometimes difficult to understand the pure language spoken down south. On our annual trips, there are many instances when I actually wonder if we are speaking the same language. Under such circumstances, it is not going to be easy for me to get my son to learn the language. Like me at his age, he is sure to wonder why he should learn the language at all…..

The only solution I can see for the problem are bilingual and audio books, with stories he can relate to…. stories which are simple and easy to understand, but also stories which are unique to the land, which talk of its greatness and importance. Only when kids read local folk tales and historical tales in the same language that they are written, can they appreciate the real beauty of those stories. Of course, this involves some great translation skills, which can make the story come alive in the other language too….. not an easy task, by any means….The language also needs to be more informal so that people like us can relate to them.

Recently, the south-Indian temple in my locality has started Tamil classes for adults and children, which is probably an indication that I am not alone. There are probably many more like me who rue the fact that we are not fluent in our own mother tongue…… This is more than can be said of the days of my childhood, when we were the few who could at least speak the language in spite of having little contact with it. Most of my friends can’t even speak or understand their mother tongues… hopefully things are changing, and for the better. Here’s to hoping for a revival of interest in our regional languages!



Comments

  1. I too hope for this change. A great initiative for keeping up diversity in India, a healthy one.

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  2. Anu,
    Better late than ever.. Alongwith your mother language if you also learn some other Indian languages it would be great instead of German or foreign languages! :)

    No offence, itz just my view!

    Jay

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  3. @Bhavesh: absolutely!!!

    @Jay; no offence taken... but then, apart from my mother tongue, i know languages which are useful for me.. and dont see any point in learning any more... i can understand many more than i actually speak... foreign languages open up so many more avenues that way... Samhith is already learning english, hindi and french in school and they have an option for german later...

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  4. what a wonderful post..Sure things have changed in the U.S. there are afterschool program in public schools where children can learn the language of their choice- includes hindi, punjabi, malayalam, chinese...&..Apart from that there is sunday tamil & hindi school where more than 500 students have enrolled just to learn tamil and i dont know the statistics for hindi..

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  5. Hahaha...what can I say...?
    I had the Deja vu moment reading your post
    yu know i could identify with all that you have said!!
    Are we cosmic twins?!!

    Yet my language skills are confined to a love and interest...i guess i differ in the level of confidence with the spoken word...
    Ahh that reminds me, I forgot to mention that language is also about confidence and need and usage ....I guess we can go on...
    Maybe we need to do a sequel?!!

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  6. I am almost scared of languages! The ones that I learned in the childhood, Hindi and English is all I know.

    Hope you will learn Tamil to your satisfaction now.

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  7. I know five languages, it helps in India especially for traveling to different parts of this huge country.

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  8. Anonymous: Of course, things have changed quite bit..... and i guess in the US there is such a search for roots now, at least that is what I see in my cousins and relatives, that they are trying to hold on to their motherland as well as their mother tongue. On the other hand, here in Bombay, for example, there are hardly any Tamil classes.. u really have to search for one... people are more interested in going abroad,i guess.....

    @ssstoryteller: now u know what i felt when i read yours! Oh, went through a great deal of problems with speaking, but that was with Marathi, since i easily learnt to read and write, but didnt get any opportunity to talk.... only when we started going into interior maharashtra for service did i get the confidence to speak.... tamil was the other way round, since we spoke it all the time, but never read or wrote.... maybe we really should do a sequel......

    @Mridula: the only reason why we learnt so many languages was simply ebcause we were uprooted from our hometown about 5 generations back, and had to learn more and more languages as we moved.... from tamilnadu to karnataka, then to delhi and finally now in bombay, we have pcked up many languages along the way.. if we had remained where we were, i doubt we would have never learnt these languages...


    @Indrani: Absolutely..... in spite of knowing so many languages, there are times when we are still stuck when we come across a dialect which makes no sense.....

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  9. I guess the best time to learn new languages easily is undoubtedly childhood.

    Being a south Indian, I could learn fluent Hindi very easily only because my mother's side people used to talk Hindi at home. Although me and my dad, both of us were exposed to the same Hindi talk at home, my dad cannot speak/understand the language fully while i can.

    Also i spent the recent four years in Chennai and three in Bangalore but still i haven't been able to pick up neither Tamil nor Kannada.
    But better late than never. ATB with your Tamil learning. :)

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  10. @wandering soul: while i agree with you that languages are picked up easier in childhood, it also depends on your exposure and the opportunities you get to speak the language.... there are people i know who, after living for more than 15 years in a place, cant even speak to the grocer, while there are others who pick up a new language in a few months.... given the right opportunities and the desire, you can pick up languages at any age... just as an example, i learnt french at the age of 28.. and was among the oldest in the class, but i ended up at the top fo the class for both years that i learnt the language... of course, now that i have lost touch, i have forgotten everything, and that is where early learning has an advantage....

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  11. Yay! Copying my comment on the Tulika blog here:) First blog post of the blogathon! Way to go! And, yes, Tulika is also seeing more people concerned about their children learning their mother tongue.

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  12. Teaching children the MT goes along way as they feel more at home when they visit their relatives & when they visit their home towns.It becomes easy for them to mingle and get along with every body. My MT is Konkani and we made a decision we would teach our son Konkani first and he speaks better than all his cousins. Other languages can be learnt any time.

    Your template looks sober and attractive.

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  13. Hi Anu,

    Hopped over from Tulika's. Great post!

    My mother tongue is Marathi which I can read and write fluently but the speaking part is slightly tainted by my birth city, Mumbai and the universal mother tongue, English. The result: Minglish with a Mumbaiyya flavour! :P

    What I hope to achieve is to be able to read good literary works in Marathi. Right now, I get stuck when authors use difficult words.

    Here's hoping we all revive our latent interests in our mother tongues. :)

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  14. @Tulika Publishers : Thanks for posting the comment here too... I didnt realise that I was the first!
    About being concerned about our kids, i guess it takes to be a mom to realise how great a responsibility it is... i really appreciate my mom a lot more now :)

    @Chitra: Absolutely... when we live away from the hometown, the mother tongue can be learnt only at home... we have a rule at home.. samhith speaks to his grandparents in tamil, with me in english, and his dad in hindi.. and otherwise, he replies in the language he is spoken to.. thus, he learns 3 languages simultaneously..... am trying to get my maid to speak to him in marathi :)
    glad you liked the template... was going to ask u about it...


    @Shraddha : welcome to my blog... I can absolutely relate to you.. these days, there isnt a single language we speak well.. its hinglish, tamil+english+hindi, and minglish, as u say......and i loved your blog... great paintings...

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  15. This page is loading faster than the older one also.

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  16. 1. cool new template on the blog :))

    nice post...enjoyed reading it...

    will come back n comment longer, rushing for a call now..:)

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  17. Gud one.... I could relate with you as I also grew up in north east India and spoke tamil little bit (tamil being my mother tongue). It was difficult for me when we shifted to chennai and I couldnt read any of the destinations on the buses (only some of them have it in english)... Finally ended up asking my mom to teach me atleast some of the letters so that travelling could better..... I am still teased till date for my tamil (for the queer way of talking) by my friends and colleagues... but that doesnt stop me from talking in tamil :)

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  18. @Chitra; Yes, it is , surprisingly... i thought it would take longer :)

    @AARTI: THANKS... shall look forward to your comments after u read it...

    @Shona: thanks ...can absolutely identify with u on that ... and loved your blog too....

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  19. Wonderful post. I too have similar problems. My mother tongue is Tamil but only for names sake. I am also fluent in about 8 other languages except Tamil which I can only speak.My blog in Hindi is here at:
    http://mallar.wordpress.com
    You can enjoy.

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