Society

The new language landscape

LANGUAGE BARRIER?: Most children today understand only when spoken to in English. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar  

“Ruchika, do you want this book on Winnie-the-Pooh or the Doraemon series toys?” asks Sandhya Rao to her two-year-old at a bookstore. It may seem ordinary, but the toddler replies in a language that was never her grandmas's or even her mother's own. An increasing number of children, especially in urban areas, are speaking more English than any other language. Has English become the new mother tongue in many homes? Given the environments in which Gen X children are growing up, the answer seems to be ‘yes'.

One contributing factor could be that in recent times the country has seen a significant rise in inter-regional marriages. Perhaps parents feel it is better to communicate in one universal language than to speak to the kid in two regional languages.

Shiril Pinto, a HR professional, talks to her three-year-old in English. “I am in a mixed marriage where my mother tongue is Konkani and my husband's is Bengali. As we were unable to learn each other's languages, we have resorted to speaking to our kid in English. Also, as we have always communicated to each other prior to marriage in this language, it just continued as a natural progression of communication at home.”

Chaitra Kiran has different reasons for choosing English. “I do speak in Kannada and am married into my own community. Yet, I feel parents like me have started stressing English because we see children are not able to understand anything if they are not fluent in this language and somehow it has become the common spoken language in activity centres, play areas, in upscale apartments and so on.” Book stores, children's activity centres, play-homes, and even workplaces encourage the use of English than any other language. The presence of international schools in cities and strict codes in even regular schools on the use of one common language has somehow pushed English into homes as well.

Moreover, parents often believe that speaking in flawless English from a young age, children are better equipped to work in global environments, so they converse in this language predominantly so that their child is not left behind.

Smitha Roy, a communication professional, did not make a conscious decision to speak in English to her three-year-old daughter Aahana. She and her husband have always spoken in English as a matter of convenience. She adds: “Somehow, even my parents conversed with me and my sisters generally in English, perhaps because we went to a convent school. I ensure Aahana learns Kannada from her grandparents. I don't her to feel she did not get the opportunity to learn any other language.”

According to Nandini Ashok, an educator who runs a preschool, “I personally think parents these days find the interview process at the kindergarten level cumbersome. It is unfair that the child is spoken to in English, and there are lesser opportunities for Indian languages to be learnt and of course, this in a certain way pressurises parents to speak more in English.”

Yet parents who speak to children only in English are content that it is a global language and that their children will learn other languages if they are interested in them. Fifty years down the line, will we be surprised if English becomes the single spoken language and kids go to special schools to learn India's regional languages?

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Printable version | Nov 20, 2020 8:46:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/the-new-language-landscape/article2882710.ece

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