The dilemma of an Indian kid : Mother Tongue vs English

Posted on February 7, 2012


The wikipedia definition of Mother Tongue is:

A first language (also native language, mother tongue, arterial language, or L1) is the language(s) a person has learned from birth[1] or within the critical period, or that a person speaks the best and so is often the basis for sociolinguistic identity. In some countries, the terms native language or mother tongue refer to the language of one’s ethnic group rather than one’s first language.

Every word of this definition (first,critical,identity,ethnic) says that the mother tongue is the language which defines you. The baby might have heard bits and pieces while in womb and finds familiarity with the voice and language of his/her mother through this. Then why is it so in India we are ready to renounce it as soon as possible for English to obtain a certain status in the society/

I have heard at gatherings and parties parents barking at their kids in English and when their kid looks up they feel so proud since he/she understood what they said. Then comes the usual statement “Oh my son just watches English cartoons” ‘oh my daughter sleeps only when she hears English bedtime stories.” Hearing this sometimes I remember Amitabh Bachchan’s dialogue in Namak Halal “I can walk in English and  talk in English because English is a very funny language”. Mind you I have no objection at learning English. In fact in today’s world it is an absolute necessity. But kids learn it eventually after 5 when they go in school. Then why push them now. German’s don’t do it. Nor do the Japanese and Chinese. Then why we?

Through their mother tongue kids get an opportunity to learn their culture, their family and thus where they belong.  We (at least in my case)use English mostly with professional colleagues . In my 6 years in US I had tons of Indian colleagues and friends and we preferred English only in professional environment. So with that our English conversations are of usually professional and formal nature. But with mother tongue or national language (Hindi) we had some kind of informality built in and hence it always led to more personal, close conversations. Same goes with our kids , if we push them for English at an early age we loose the closeness and bonding with them.

To a great extent the schools (especially convent with catholic managements and international schools) are to be blamed. A 3 year old kid if he/she can’t speak English, can’t get an admission. I mean that is just ridiculous. I started speaking English at 4 and even though it was not my other tongue I turned out fine right !!. At the same time for some kids with me whose mother tongue was English are still at the same place either working in a call center with a false accent or a part of the rundown band and earning 1/3 of what I do. The principals or nuns in these schools interview the parents of the 3 year old to see if they know English and if they converse with their kids in English? Why is this kind of farce needed in our school administration.

I am proud my 2 year old speaks her mother tongue fluently. I put here in a playgroup last week. The teacher complains that she cannot communicate with the other kids since all of them speak only English. I really felt like giving the teacher a piece of my mind with the choicest of words. But as usual couldn’t do much (other than rant on this blog). I know my two year old will pick up English sooner rather than later, but at least on my part I will make sure I converse with her in our mother tongue.


Posted in: Opinions