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Mind your language

Children born out of mixed marriages face language dilemmas when they have to choose between English and their mother tongue, writes Aruna Rathod.

india Updated: Oct 31, 2008 15:29 IST
Aruna Rathod
Aruna Rathod
Hindustan Times

Ask any child, “What’s your mother tongue?” “English,” comes the reply. One cannot blame the child. There are various definitions of mother tongue in the dictionary.

According to one, it is the language which a person talks best and which is usually used for communication in the family (household). Another definition says: Mother tongue refers to the first language a person learnt at home during the childhood years and still understands. And there are many more..

Anupama Verma has a four-year-old daughter. She would rather teach her daughter English first since it helps at the time of school admissions. “There is all the time in the world to learn the mother tongue,” she says.

Culture city
And if you are in Mumbai, it is easy to just know either English, Hindi or Marathi. For Gayatri Siraj, it was a tough decision to choose the language of communication.

A Tamilian married to a Muslim, she has two children, Kabir and Mehr, and lives in Muscat. “When Kabir began to talk, we spoke to him in different languages — English, Hindi and Tamil. The child was confused, then we decided to speak only in English and he learnt it. Mehr who is younger, picked it up as well.” Result: the mother tongue is known only to the mother! Siraj doesn’t understand Tamil at all but is adept in English and Hindi. “I am still trying to communicate with him in Tamil. It’s always better to know an additional language.”

Mother tongue is also an excellent way to enhance family bonding. Lata Mehta is a Tamilian and her son Karan learnt Tamil before any other language. “He can also speak a few words of Gujarati, as his dad is a Gujarati (mother was a Maharashtrian).”

Karan learnt English when he was enrolled in play school. Lata believed it was very important to know both the languages. Depending on the family, it becomes very easy to communicate with the grandparents and relatives.