The following conversation happened recently between the Class Teacher and us:
The Teacher: As part of giving Spruha a comprehensive learning experience, please talk to her in English at home.
I: Well, we do use English words and phrases in our conversation. But, mostly the conversation is in her mothertongue. Why do you stress speakinng with her in only English?
Teacher: It will ease our communication. She must become habitual of the language. After all, she is going to use it for the rest of her life.
I: I still fail to understand the importance of speaking in only English?
Teacher: Spruha will soon graduate out of this preschool. For her ease of learning, you must speak to her in the language that schools these days use. In most cases, they compel all students to use English, which is why I tell you to speak with her in English.
I gathered my thoughts and spoke:
I: Language is of sound importance in the first five years of anyone’s life. But, no language except for her mothertongue will help create a bond between us and her. While I certainly get your point, I find it largely impractical on my part to teach her English before helping her communicate fluently in her mothertongue. The critical part is, she must learn to communicate, and not merely speak.
Teacher: I see your point. I just wanted to tell you that schools expect certain things.
That’s when Shambhavi eased the conversation.
Shambhavi: I know what you are saying; even I have observed the same thing. But, I also see from where Suyog is driving his point home. We’ve seen people try to speak with thier kids in their own [usually annoying] versions of English the moment they see us speak with Spruha in English. People feel overwhelmed by this self-assumed responsibility of speaking in English the moment they see someone else do it out of plain habit.
We all chuckled. Then, Shambhavi added.
Shambhavi: There is also a common misconception that speaking in English makes people appear sophisticated. Basically, Spruha has to first learn to respect her mothertongue. And then, any other language. Let’s just say, we will teach her Marathi; you teach her English.
The long conversation deservedly followed an almost-equally long pause. We assume that we convinced the teacher on our point of view.
Given that pretext, let’s get to today’s conversation. As a learning facilitator, I’ve been itching to write on this subject for long. For kids, getting to express themselves is the foremost thing to learn. But, if that’s the case, and I believe it is, why do I see an increasing number of parents restrict their respective kids—toddlers, in some cases—from using any other language in [almost] all public spaces if not for only at their homes? Are they all snob? Many bothersome questions like these underpin this post.
In India, dealing with “English” matters in public is still a matter of pride—for those who speak—and amusement—for those who don’t. Typically, when parents speak with their kids in English in public places:
- Some people desperately try to ignore thinking that it is in fashion nowadays.
- Some just walk off. They mentally call you an angrez (Angrez is in Hindi for people from England—or any other English-speaking nation).
- Some feel scared. They even try to compete by faking an accent; never mention their grammar.
- Some feel low on importance. This category will usually begin speaking a bit louder. Yes, in a common language, like Hindi.
- Some ask the Hindi version of, “Goes to an English medium school. Right?”
Aside from such funny situations (and people), this is a learning lesson for me. Let me be specific: there is a visible gap between those who use English out of habit and those who [try to?] flaunt it. If they still do it with the sole intention of helping their kids learn a new language, I can still buy their argument—so long as they don’t advertise it. There are countless reasons, such as North India-South India divide or that two people may not understand one another’s regional language.
But for the most part, most of us do it because they fall prey to a sort of social pressure. Yes, you guessed it right: the same social pressure that makes us think that one language is superior to the other and the same social presume that makes us feel that, eventually, one degree (like the Medical or Engineering) is superior to the other vocational courses. It is still a huge statement to say that some of us see kids as kids, and some, as report cards.
Let us help our kids learn to respect themselves. Let us help them preserve their core. Etiquette and skills can (and, certainly, do) follow.