Where's the mother tongue?

What is with parents and even grand parents these days to speak to their wards only in English? I stay in a complex that has roughly 500 flats and almost each having at least one kid. I meet so many parents with their children in the park area and all I get to hear is conversations in English. The percentage is slightly lower if the kid is below 2 years old but if the child is in the pre-school age or above that, in 8 out of 10 cases, across all communities, I witness the English-obsession scenario.

Earlier we were not exposed as much to the CBSE and ICSE boards of schooling as we are today. International schools were a rarity. Only parents who migrated from abroad had their wards speaking in heavily accented English much to awe and envy of us lesser-mortals. English-speaking was considered hip then and we all tried desperately to “fit” in. The situation as I see is has not changed much even today. I agree that good written and spoken English is an important skill today and hence needs to be developed and honed. Yet, this is not a sufficient excuse to banish the local language even from home.

I fail to understand the psyche of parents who send their children to international schools-where they anyway would learn and master the Queen’s language- and yet choose English over their mother tongue as the medium of communication even at home. Does it not border on extremism when your child knows a foreign language too well and responds ONLY in that language even when spoken to in a regional language that would be their mother tongue? How can this be a matter of pride when you announce to people that “my child understands X language but cannot or does not speak”? It is a probably a different matter if the child is raised in a foreign country. Even then, in my opinion, it is the duty of the parents to ensure that the child speaks his or her mother tongue at home. Whatever gaps or shortcomings noticed in picking up the language should be filled in by inculcating a healthy reading habit.

Does this trend mean that the mother-tongue is losing its importance? That if you do not know to speak your mother-tongue yet can write essays in English, you will be looked up to? There is already a degradation of regional languages from one generation down to the other because of the influence and sometimes overshadowing of other languages. Surely our parents and the generation before them spoke a more correct form of our regional tongue. I, for one feel quite bad for not knowing to read or write in my mother tongue. While my husband and I have arguments about which one of us speaks better Tamizh, we agree wholeheartedly on teaching R this language. It is up to us parents to inculcate in young minds the pride associated with vernacular language and ensure that it does not meet a slow death generations down the line.

ETA: This is a link shared by Sebamedmom about languages and what a crucial role it plays in individuals by Ganesh Devy at Mumbai Tedx event


  1. Very true. Cant agree with u more..

  2. Ohh I so agree with u. I get so pissed off when I hear mother's yelling at their kids in English..."Beta don;t touch that...beta no ..don't go there".....there are quiet a few countries where we dread going on work visits or for pleasure because no one understands english there.....I wonder why we can't stand upto our mother toungues like them....yes we need to be english-ized to be global. But how about being local first?? :-)

  3. Hey Uma, I actually have a slightly different take on this. I used to speak to both my children only in Tamil until they started going to school. Then with all the exposure they get in school (where understandably English has to be the language of communication), they gradually start shifting to English - so the scenario is - you speak to them in Tamil, they answer in English.

    I still continue speaking to them in Tamil, but considering that English is so much a part of our communicating with other people (on the phone, in the shops etc), the children just continue using it. And then we also start talking to them in English just like we talk to everyone else around us. My kids (like most kids nowadays i suppose) are so smart - they know to speak to the maid in Tamil as they know she cannot understand English, but to everyone else only in English!

    Unfortunately I don't watch much Tamil television except for the odd movie now and then (which most of the time I don't feel is appropriate for them even as a tool for picking up the language :( ). Else that would have definitely been a good exposure to the language as there's nothing like TV to catch their attention.

  4. I am in total agreement with you, Uma. I have no clue why parents would want to do that. If you must know, in our house, as kids, or even as grownups we were never spoken to in anyother language than our own by our parents. Yet today, I m fluent in 4 languages - Konkani, english, hindi, marathi and french.

    Even if by mistake if I or my brother would use any word in other language, my mom used to scold us and make us say the entire sentence with the corrected word. how strict is that... and how much effort does that take.

    If we cannot pride in ourselves for where we emerge from, i think there is nothing to gloat about ever in life. I take language issues very seriously. I am making sure my kids will never speak any other language in our house.

    The rest, the outside world can teach them. :)

  5. oh my math does not add up.. i mean 5 languages!:) my bad!

  6. Chitra: :-)

    Sharda: Yeah..Germans and the French for eg insist on speaking their language rather than English even if they know it. Maybe India, being a multi-lingual country, we do not seem to identify with one single language.

    Aparna: I do not see a problem in communicating with your kids in English as long as they know the mother tongue as well. Somehow I also feel home is only place where kids can practise speaking the regional language and hence must be encouraged to do so. Again, this is purely my personal feeling.

    Purnima: We as children conversed in Tamil with our parents. Only as we grew older did we shift loyalities to English. Being brought up in Mumbai my Tamizh is also very palkkadised to the extent that my husband's (husband is from chennai) friends thought my native is palakkad..:-(. I generally feel very conscious when speaking to chennaities and resort to English as a safe mode..:-)
    But with R, we want to teach him first tamizh, hence we strictly speak only that language at home, although between hubby and me a lot of English is spoken too.

  7. very good topic and nice writing. yes, Iam one of the parent who adhere to mother toungue with my now 6 yr old. But I have always talked english to her from age 2!! We have been able to draw a median always.
    keep in touch. i blog on sushmaspage.blogspot

  8. Just wanted to add I have heard of instances where the school gets back to the parents if the children are not comfortable with English which forces parents to communicate with the kids more in English :(.

    In my case, I still continue to speak to them in Tamil, so atleast I can feel like they understand the language even if they don't speak it much :).

  9. Sushma: Thanks Sushma! hopped over to your blog..lovely poem on the career one..

    Aparna: really? schools do this?? talk about shifting responsibilities..parenting is getting tougher with onus of what not falling on us..:-(

  10. Hi Uma,
    I have been following your blog for quite sometime. I agree with you totally on the language issue.

    My mother tongue is Tamil and I communicate with my 4.5 years old daughter only in Tamil (although I have faced pressure from various quarters to talk to her in English). I have seen lot of parents who communicate with their kid only in English. I don't understand why people are so paranoid about this.

    Nowadays once kids enter school they automatically learn to speak good English. There is no need to for us to teach them English at home at the cost of our mother tongue.


  11. Lovely blog! It reminded me of a Ted Talk I had seen at Mumbai Tedx event where Ganesh Devy talks about Languages and what a crucial role it plays in individuals.

  12. Kavitha: welcome here and thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, I fail to understand the trend but perhaps as Aparna pointed out, schools are shirking off their responsibilities and hence parents are made to fill in the gap.

    Sebamedmom: thanks a ton! And thanks for sharing the link. It was very informative. With your permission, I would like to share the link in my post.

  13. It is sad to hear that schools force the parents to speak to their kids in English! I mean, where does their responsibility lie then??

    We have a treasure of languages in India.. and the more we learn, the better, is what I feel. I just wish we could find a bridge to such problems.

  14. Well for long we have been fed that the english language is the gateway to highre opportunities and may be english is not a status symbol anymore in ur locality it certainly is most part of India

  15. Perception: Am not sure if you are in favour of or against this trend. My opinion is based on happenings around me irrespective of the locality and am not recommending to do away with English all together. It is just that we are having the priorities mixed up.


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