Have you ever noticed how many parents these days tend to speak to their children in English when in public? Whether they are fluent in that language or not, most end up speaking in Pidgin English. Ever wondered why they do that? Are they embarrassed of communicating with their children in their mother tongue? Do they want to show the world that they are ‘oh so literate’ because they can speak some really messy form of English? Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with speaking another language. One should be bilingual, or trilingual, or better yet… multilingual. I envy those who know more than two languages. But that’s not the point here; the point is the lack of importance we give our mother tongue. Whatever language it may be.
My mother tongue is Kashmiri; no one in my immediate family knows it, but then the alternative we have is Punjabi or Urdu. We make sure our kids have a grasp on both these languages before we move ahead and teach them English. It’s not like I would want parents to discourage their children from learning English, or any other language. But I feel it’s important to make them realise that knowing their mother tongue is a privilege. It keeps us connected to our roots, and we should be proud of, and not embarrassed by, our roots. Sadly, we feel we will be considered more literate if our progenies speak English fluently.
While speaking more than one language is something I would love to inculcate in my own children, I also feel one’s mother tongue should be prioritised. Why is it that we take pride in speaking a foreign language but not our own?
Some of our Pakistani actors are a great example of the phenomenon I am talking about. Dear Meera, if you can’t speak English, don’t even try. Why do you want to make a joke out of yourself? Not knowing English is nothing to be embarrassed about. Actors, in the rest of the world, usually have translators with them if they can’t speak a certain language. They don’t feel the need to switch or even try to speak in another language. They are proud of who they are. Why can’t people who represent our country do the same?
What is it with us then that we tend to converse in a mish-mash of languages? Shouldn’t we first try and ace our mother tongue and then maybe go on to speak other languages? Let’s be proud of the language that is spoken in our house. Let’s take pride in it rather than be embarrassed about it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2015.
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