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 , 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. Bombay
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!