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A Tale Of Two States -- Kids And Language Issues

Rajesh and I come from two different cultures from the south of India. He is a Malayali, and I am a Telugu. Notably, it is a cupid-struck marriage duly blessed and endeared by families from both sides. As is the case with every marriage, initially, we had our share of adjustments and challenges to overcome. We both took our time to learn and acclimatize to each other’s language and culture, respectively. However, within a short span, we adjusted to each other’s culture with due respect. At home, both cultures have blended as one. Also, the ‘south’ thing was a common binding factor between us – interestingly, even the cuisines at my home are a mix of Kerala and Andhra. 

Though we have harmonized so well into each other’s culture, thoughts that kept hogging us were: What language will they learn when we have children? What will be the child’s mother tongue? Will the child understand, adjust, and learn both parents' languages? How about Hindi and English? Will the child be able to learn so many languages? Will he get confused? Will it be pressuring for him? Which language will be the primary medium of communication at home – Malayalam or Telugu? An infinite number of thoughts like these made us feel clogged up at times. Our parents, too, expressed their concern in this regard. Well, I guess not only us but, perhaps all parents from cross-cultural backgrounds face this issue. 

Language – is it such a big concern? After all, it’s a matter of communication. Is it such a big deal? Can’t we employ some language – say, English at home? It sounds easy, though, but it isn’t so. The essential functions of language are communication, representation, expression, and social interaction. Now, Rajesh and I are unapologetically attached to our cultural roots. Therefore, we were keen that our kids learn both languages to convey information, represent ideas or thoughts, express emotions, and build relationships with our families. But how?  

When my elder son was born in 2015, all were happy. But, easier said than done, it isn’t like the famous adage, “All’s well, that ends well.” Slowly, families from both sides began showing their supremacy in nurturing and grooming the child. Was it natural, or was it insecurity that came intuitively to them? We don’t know. Meanwhile, Rajesh and I began to accept that this is how the state of affairs is meant to be. As parents, we took our time to settle down, keeping the hustle and bustle of both families aside. Here is the tip-off – amicable understanding and maturity between both partners! As we realized that the child needs to adapt to both cultures, we willfully accepted each other’s cultural requirements while raising him.

The days were passing by. One afternoon, my heart fluttered with anxiety. Why? The same old thoughts of how and when to teach Malayalam and Telugu to my child began to bog me down. I was under pressure. Then, I casually called my friend who also got into this cross-cultural wedlock, and I messaged another on Facebook. Both were blessed with kids by then. I thought…let me take some tips from them. How are they managing the language at home with their kids? And they did give me some vital cues. 

They suggested that I speak my mother tongue with the child and Rajesh in his. In this way, they said, the child can learn both languages early without any qualms. We followed suit! 

My husband’s side used to speak with the little one in Malayalam and my family and me in Telugu. Though we speak Malayalam at home (I learned Malayalam, which is not perfect, but I can manage it), I felt comfortable speaking with Shivtej in Telugu since it is my mother tongue. I communicated with him well; I sang songs and told him fables in my mother tongue. Soon, he picked up Telugu! My husband used to speak with him in Malayalam, and so did my in-laws… and he quickly picked up Malayalam. He was three years of age when he started speaking both languages, and now, he speaks Telugu and Malayalam flawlessly!!! 

Our woes have vanished within no time…at a young age, my elder son has recognized and identified the two languages and which language to speak with whom. We are so relaxed now. He speaks awesome Telugu with my family, and within seconds, he shifts his gear to Malayalam if need be! Maybe, as parents, we are lucky in one way, but for this, we and our families have put in the effort, though the central part of the effort came from the little one. Our near and dear ones keep saying that since he is a child, he can pick up many languages in no time and that children can pick up as many languages as they can at a young age. This might be true, but for that to happen, parents and their families must work hard to provide the right amicable environment for the child. Given our experiences and the cultural environment at home, it was easy for my second son to learn both Malayalam and Telugu! 

As parents, coming from two different cultural backgrounds has its share of challenges. But, for the child to adapt quickly to both cultures, the onus is on parents and their families. We should learn to accommodate each other’s culture with respect, love, and affection, as this will provide a suitable environment for the child to grow and flourish. The child’s first school is the home, and the parents are the child’s first teachers. The child learns to grow up watching his parents, and if the parents can provide the right background for the child, then there is no looking back for the little one. They can easily adjust to multiple cultures with respect and élan. The child will also grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially robust.  

Namaste! 

More By  :  Dr. A. Nivedita

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