Mother Tongue

The Importance of Teaching our Mother Tongue to Our Children

The history of our civilization would have been a completely different story altogether if there was no verbal communication among its inhabitants. For ages together, Man has expressed his feelings – love, affection, sorrow, despair, anger, frustration, joy, ecstasy and such others – in one language or the other.

An anthropological account of human beings would reveal the true nature of evolution through languages – from sign language and scribbling on cave walls to monosyllabic sounds. Then, after undergoing many, many numbers of transformations, revision, and refinements through the ages to come to what we speak today. Even still, all of us do not speak the same language. Almost every part of the world has its own characteristic language. Literally speaking, if traveled through the length and width of the world, one can find a range of languages. With every alphabet, one can find more than just one language – from Arabic to English to Nepalese to Swahili to Zulu.

But without a doubt, wherever a person stays or whatever he does, the most comfortable language for him to communicate in is his mother tongue. It is the language he gets by birth, and it is the language he first listens to from his mother. It is the language in which he speaks his first words.

The significance of mother tongues in human beings is astronomical because it gives him an identity. It links him with his roots, his values, and his culture. But, these days, it has been most unfortunately noticed that among many, the natural affiliation to their own language is on the wane.

A notable manifestation of this trend is most conspicuously visible among the Non-resident or immigrant diasporas. One can say it is a product of globalization – there is a constant and increasing movement of people from one country to another. Such population mobility is caused by many factors like the desire for better economic conditions, labour shortfall in the origin country, ecological disasters, refugee outflow for social or political crisis, and other such situations.

People from one country migrate to another and with the passage of time, they often tend to lose the characteristic identity of their birth land and grow closer to their adopted homeland. It is more evident with subsequent generations, who are born in the new country and are brought up amidst a totally different socio-cultural environment than their parents. They are a class to whom the mother tongue has very little relevance or significance, as they are more conversant with the language of their adopted country since they have been familiarized with it in every aspect of life since birth.

Like the people of many countries of the world, this is also a burning issue for many Non Resident Indians (NRIs), who have migrated and settled in different countries of the world, miles away from their homeland India! More than the NRIs of Middle East or East Asian countries, where Indian languages have more or less prevalence, this is more conspicuous in the West among the families of NRIs based in the USA and Europe.

India is a big country with vast cultural diversities. But, more diverse are the vernacular manifestations. Each Indian state may have one main language which is known as the official language, but there are several other languages, dialects or variations may exist are spoken through out. Interestingly, Hindi, the official language of India, is the main language in only 11 of its many states.

 Today, thousands of Indians coming from such a cultural background to the USA or United Kingdom, it is quite natural that the flavor of their Indianness is highly retained while in their first generation. The problem begins problem begins mainly with the next generation that follows.

The offspring of first generation NRIs tend to lose their vernacular identity and find themselves more at ease with their foreign counterparts, history, culture and language. Quite surprisingly, while their parents speak to each other in their own Indian language, they speak to their children in English, thus failing to inculcate the habit of being conversant with their mother tongue from an early stage of life. As a result, often and most unfortunately, a majority of such young NRIs cannot speak in their own language, let alone write or read their mother tongue.

This ignorance of the familiarity with one’s mother tongue ultimately leads to a bigger fallacy. It is just not the habit of speaking in one’s own language that is missing, but actually, this detachment is taking these people away from their own culture and heritage.

Irrespective of where he lives, it is extremely important for a human being to have a deep understanding of his origin. To be able to identify with his roots, his culture gives him an identity that he carries with him throughout his life. This identification proffers him a distinct individuality that makes him stand out from the rest of his foreign counterparts. Now, in order to have this sense of oneness with his roots, the best way to connect is through the mother tongue. The mother tongue is the medium that will help a person to feel, identify and understand his background, because his origin can be detailed only through his native language.

For Non-resident Indians, this matter is more specific. India is a land with rich cultural and moral heritage. It is a land that has been blessed by thousands of saints and pious men, enriched by the knowledge accumulated by wise men from all walks, and benefits from a value-based social structure unmatched by any other. It is indeed a pride for every Indian to be an Indian. But, unfortunately the newest generation of NRIs or even Resident Indians sometimes fails to understand this simple truth that a civilization as respectable and profusely loaded as ours is hard to find.

And this inability to apprehend the actual situation is basically a product of their drifting away from their own language or the mother tongue. The aptitude to speak, read or write in one’s mother tongue gives them the weapon to understand their self, their true history – which cannot retain the same meaning if translated in an alien language.

Moreover, apart from giving a real sense of identity to an individual, mother tongue also helps a person to express himself in the most candid and transparent manner. There can be no language that is as sweet or as close to one’s self than his mother tongue. A mother tongue is basically the language of one’s mother – hence it is most venerable and most honorable. Denial of the mother tongue or the ignorance of its rich virtues is as bad as denying one’s own existence.

While in a different land, it is natural that learning and practicing the local language is most essential. It is customary to do so, to get drafted in the local society, to be a part of the daily life. But that does not mean rejection or rebuffing one’s own mother tongue, which unfortunately has been the latest inclination among many NRIs. For NRIs, mother tongue is the main link between their immigrant life and their Indian identity. In fact, instilling a system of practicing and cultivating one’s mother tongue in homes is a very ideal habit and must be followed by all. More so, their children should be induced into this system at a very early stage in life, so that they are never alien to their Indianness.

Bilingualism should, in fact, be promoted among the children. It has been scientifically proven that when children continue to develop their abilities in two or more languages, they gain a deeper understanding of languages and how to communicate effectively. In fact, the level of development of a child’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their other language development.

So, all said and done, it is evident that not only in terms of connectivity to one’s own roots and culture, learning and using one’s mother tongue have other proven advantages. It is thus mostly left upon the first generation of NRIs to understand the virtues of their mother tongue and to explain and inculcate the habit among their children as well as subsequent generations. It is only then that this generation will blossom into a perfect one – combining the goodness of their homeland as well as their adopted land.