It is an unusual assembly of parents for a Sunday afternoon on Thantoni Amman Koil Street. They are waiting outside the office of the Malayali Samajam Villivakkam to pick their children up after the class. Inside, the room is animated with songs, accent on diction and story narration – all in Malayalam. The teacher, Preeja, promptly corrects a few of them: “Nammalkku English venda”.

Every weekend for over an hour many such associations and homes of residents in the city turn into Malayalam learning centres. Launched four months ago, Malayalam Mission, a project of Kerala government to teach non-resident Malayalees the mother tongue, now has 140 centres in the city, with 125 of them being homemakers trained to teach a segment the language in an easy to learn way. The classes are absolutely free and the teachers work on a voluntary basic with no remuneration.

In a largely English-based education system where mother tongue is slowly being wiped out, many such regional associations are taking some initiative to revive interest among the next generation. The Bengal Association, for instance, is also planning to offer classes in Bengali from next month. To start with, it plans to offer classes either on a weekly or a fortnightly basis. Shree Agarwal Sabha is planning to start teaching Hindi during the summer vacation. Indra Raj Bansal, its president, says many of the younger generation even do not know to speak Hindi fluently as it is mainly taught as a third language in school. “There are different dialects of Rajasthan in various districts, but we plan to first start with Hindi classes,” he says.

The Punjab Association in association with University of Madras continues to run a programme that teaches interested people Punjabi from scratch. Sustaining interest amid academic pressures is one of the main concerns members of various associations have in running these language classes. Some have even discontinued such programmes.

Declining interest

As Bihari Lala Ahuja, secretary of Sadhu Vaswani Centre, Egmore, says for three-four years the centre taught Sindhi to children and elders but the number slowly dwindled. “We discontinued the classes four-five years ago. But, we have teachers and we do not charge any fee from students, we just want families to take interest in sending youngsters to the classes,” says Mr. Ahuja.

The Telugu associations too are facing a similar challenge. But, is childhood the best time to pick up one's mother tongue? Debarati Bhajan, a civil engineer, recalls her grandfather getting her alphabet books in Bengali every time she went to her hometown. “I was in school then and even learnt to read a little, but once I was back in school I forgot,” she says. But, with time, we are realising the importance of knowing our mother tongue and I would appreciate learning it better now, she adds.

New teaching methods

M.Nanda Govind, president of Malayalam Mission for Tamil Nadu, says it is important that such classes evolve with time. “Our classes are different from the conventional way of teaching Malayalam where it generally starts with learning aksharam. But at the same time it is like any other curriculum,” he says.

A total of 40 classes are conducted a year and students also have to give an exam. After completing the four levels, a student gets a certificate equivalent to the SSLC offered by Kerala Education Department.

While the bigger challenge is to ensure parents motivate their children for such classes, it is equally a task to sustain such programmes as students are not required to pay any fee and teachers work on an honorary basis. As M.R. Preeja adds,

“It is important to motivate teachers with some remuneration, which the Kerala government should consider to get more teachers and students.”

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012

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