Colossus Book

Colossus Book


Colossus Book

AUTHOR:Ranjini Iyer

© 2020

The value of a second language

My sons know this house rule well.

Only speak your mother and father tongue at home. English outside and when people who only speak English are present (this one is more abstract since they can not speak English if its a private thought they want to express like I need to poop now! No one needs to hear that.)

The question of language.

A second language for all.

My kids speak three. My mother tongue, my husband’s mother tongue and English.

They aren’t geniuses. It’s just that they have been exposed and they have had practice.

Yes culturally it is important. Which makes me so sad because so few second generation Indian kids speak their mother tongues. I have had friends who have told me with relish how their kid doesn’t even understand their own mother tongue but goes to French or Spanish immersion school and speaks fluent French or Spanish. Ok so they have the second language. Kudos. But why the relish regarding this blatant ignorance of your mother tongue? Are they ashamed of their own language? Think it is unimportant that if their offsprings carry names like Kamlesh Vaswani or Radhika Ramanathan, have a head full of black hair and brown skin that they will never feel the need to understand their origins or have some fleeting knowledge at least of their rich cultural past?

Makes my blood boil. These kids will in their late teens, when identity becomes an issue a subject of discussion, suffer as a result of this highly avoidable ignorance and lack of pride.

Now I believe it is harder for immigrants. To keep your feet on both boats as it were. But it is important. Keeping some link to your heritage so later on when racial identity is an issue, you are able to embrace your ethnic roots and your American-ness with equal ease and have the best of both worlds.

But what do I know. I stand on my soap box and preach.

Immigrants aside, it is my humble opinion that it would do the mainstream American child a world of good to learn a second language from the elementary years for obvious brain development and if not for more lofty reasons then at least so they learn not to butcher names and words in foreign tongues. I have found anyone who speaks another language, any language, pronounces our names and foreign words in general correctly for their tongue is exposed to different sounds. Sounds that do not exist in the English language.

That lack of knowledge accounts for all the people who say I-raak or Aaf-ghaa-nis-taan. Ugh.

Pet peeves I suppose but really, if you are relaying the news, learn how this is pronounced. Or to the average person, you have heard this word correctly numerous times. Please make an effort.

Levity aside, it would get the American kids on par with most of their world cousins, since most of them speak multiple languages.

Now for the practical aspects of a second language.

Kids say whatever in public. Just whatever. No filter right?

My friend who is from Europe took her son grocery shopping once. The child set eyes on a rather heavy set woman walking by and commented in a loud voice about her appearance. In English.

The woman was understandably distraught. And she started to cry. My friend was mortified. No sense blaming the kid. He was about three. My friend corrected him, apologized to the woman and left the store in a hurry.

I told her, if only her child had known his native tongue, well, she could have corrected him etc but there would’ve been no harm done.

I had my own chance several times to thank the language gods but the biggest one was when my older one was about four.

We were at a restaurant just the two of us waiting for our meal when a young girl, kid really, slip of a thing, walks by. She was, as many kids of that tween age tend to be–overdeveloped in the chest area. And seemed very aware of it. Poor child.

My son watched her for a while, turned to me and asked in a rather loud voice.

“Why are her breasts so huge?”

In his defense, we had discussed how breasts grow on girls when they are older. Understandably he saw a young un endowed with what should only belong on an older person. And hence a very scientific question. He was curious. Not being lewd. He was after all four.

She heard of course and walked on without a care.

And thank you language gods cause my son had asked me the question in Tamil.

Of course I shushed him, congratulated him for asking me that in Tamil. And I went on to impart more knowledge on the subject.

There are other ways an extra language comes in hand. We can gossip about strangers in public and we do. We wonder about them like the Simon and Garfunkle song except they won’t know. We aren’t obnoxious. Just able to be curious without worrying too much about it.

And no one is the wiser.

And also I can scold them. In public without worrying that someone will think I am Cruella Deville.

My threats tend to be dire and are not for the faint of heart. Luckily my sons are used to my rantings and take it without skipping a beat.

If some of those are translated, well…let’s just say the authorities wouldn’t be too pleased.