I often have cultural and especially linguistic dilemmas and nostalgias. Flavors of chapati, roti, or naan linger on my taste buds. But calling all together as a ‘pancake’ in English is soul less!!for me atleast! How do I translate, lassi, falooda, sherbet? Although I enjoy all these to the core of my heart.
One of the things that I miss from childhood are my neighbors’ 'open doors'. Those are the living educational institutes for children to learn languages, cultures, manners. All kids whatever the origin or language playing all together and all around houses, flats, chawls, jhopadis… We could simply walk to the neighbors who would be speaking, diverse languages, dialects: Gujarathi, Sindhi, Kachchi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada… and so on. It was not only about the languages but food, festivals, dresses all we enjoyed and relished over and over again.Without formal education we knew and we have learnt and preserved those multicultural, multilingual heritages. We knew whom to say ma, aai, mummi, ba, and amma,….and get pampered with sweets!!!
So were the names, works of great sages, writers, poets, saints like Budhda, Mahavir, Guru Nanak, Jalaram, Jhulelal, Tukaram, Mahavir, Thiruvallvar, Surdas, Kabir, Tagore…all showering on us directly, indirectly. If someday I sit at rest in solitude, all those thoughts reverberate in my heart. This is not a story of me but each one of the us who grew up in India. Each one of us has this heritage enshrined within us from our childhood.
But even then sometimes it surprises me to hear friends' conflicting opinions about introducing multicultural and multilingualism to our kids. Most of them agree significance of the former but many of them are not convinced about the later…!!
Why learn Indian languages or other languages, why should kids talk in our mothertounge, why waste time and energy and so on… I believe it is necessary to understand that it is well known fact that there is strong link between the language and the development of culture.
Well the best way is to address the issue is based on scientific evidence specially from linguistics- the study of languages. (A curious fact I found is that the earliest activities in the description of language have been attributed to the 4th century BCE Indian grammarian Pāṇini, who was an early student of linguistics and wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī). I am not sure if this is a good reason to be proud or feel pity with current situation.
The fields like neurolinguistics which is study of language processing in the brain; and language acquisition, which investigates how children and adults acquire a particular language has shown that learning multiple languages in any age is very advantageous for several reasons.In adults it can benefit to delay dementia by reinforcing the brain activity. In case of children below 12 years’ there is a special language window which renders them possibility to learn languages quickly. Up to the age 7 the children have photographic memory that is they can absorb the languages readily. The more they learn and exposed to more reinforcement of their neural synapses!
Further, leading linguistics like Dr Kelndall King and Dr. Alison Machey state that learning multiple languages is aan invaluable edge or advantage for everyone. This is evident not only through tests on intelligence and academic ability, but also in children’s enhanced creativity, self-esteem, cross-cultural understanding and future job opportunities.There is enough evidence that children with multicultural, multilingual backgrounds have better flexibility, adaptability, sensitivity for others. Their academic skills improve so does their ability to face challenging, discriminatory circumstances.
Should one be teaching ‘dying languages’ to children? Certainly Yes! 'Cause scarcity creates demand! If you are one of those who can speak ‘Bidyara’ Language (Spoken in Australia between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers, 20 speakers found in 1981; effectively extinct by 2008) certain you are in high demand for academics. If you are one of the millions who speak a certain language like English then sure you have advantage of making new friends, enjoying new cultures and rending global view. In this age of information where reverse brain drain is happening. It is no wonder that so called dying languages will never perish in oblivion but revive and flourish. In this century extinction of language could be reversed. There would be always enthusiasts who would find out, learn and preserve such heritages. And keep this world diverse and beautiful.
But being an oversees Indian, this cultural advantage and heritage is not readily available to our children at our disposal. How can we make this available to them?
We can all make some efforts to share this heritage in a common platform. We can also offer, and preserve multilingualism in our kids. Not only learning local langauges but prserving the spirit of culture through studying our mothertoungs. So let’s make some efforts by speaking in our mothertoung, or by simply introducing your best friends' language to your kids; ask what literature they read…. If possible listen, learn, absorb…