You Don’t Have To Copy People Who Speak To Their Kids In English

Posted by Akshata Ram in Society
February 20, 2017

It is only on the weekends that I get to spend a lot of time with my daughter. Being a working mom, this is the best part and I look forward to unwinding and feeling rejuvenated. Last Saturday, we went to the park as is our usual routine. It was pretty late when we went there. The park is usually overcrowded if we venture out at regular times and my dotty hardly gets her chance at the swings. Hence, she prefers going once the crowd has died down. I like this time as well as she can play to her heart’s content and I stand by watching her and talking to her.

Now, the language we converse in at home (not just restricted to conversations with the child) with everyone in the family is, well, English. Before that crease appears on your brow, let me tell you why. I have written about this in the past and I have pasted the link here as it’s easier to avoid being repetitive.

I request my readers to read it before they proceed further as it’s relevant even in this context.

I am a bit conscious about speaking to Angel (my daughter) in English outside my home as I have often got the most weird and funny reactions from people. When they realize that a mum is speaking to her child in English, they hastily switch from Hindi, Marathi or any other language which they were conversing in previously and loudly start talking to the child in English. What transpires is even funnier. The child who is obviously unaware of why this sudden change occurred looks up, is often unable to reply in English for the most obvious reasons (that it is not what is spoken by the parent and child in normal course) and the poor child just mumbles something and gets back to his game.

This infuriates me to no end. That day at the park, it happened twice. As Angel was climbing up the slide, her eyes all over the playground, I told her gently and slowly , “Baby watch your step, look down, you may fall.” Almost the next minute, a mom who was screaming loudly into her phone in Gujrati, bellowed to her son swinging nearby, “Watch out the swings, holding tight you.”  It made me angry and made me laugh, I let out a guffaw unintentionally, and uncontrollably. I gather that she got the message since she walked away in a huff.

I then took Angel to the club house which has a room full of toys for little children. We only had the company of a five-year-old girl and her father at the club house. I decided not to talk to Angel unless the need arose for people often mistake it as “showing off the ability to speak in English”. The father daughter duo was conversing in Marathi till the point I opened my mouth. I had to say something as Angel needed help in fixing some blocks. There it was again. The dad started, “Baby show me your what you have for your tea party. You have cupcakes, coffee and fruits, wow, what else. Go get more.”

mother playing with her daughter.
Photo credits: Flickr/Patrick Slaven

I was seething in irritation and anger by the time I went home and told my mom, “How do you put up with the bunch of lunatics every day when you take Angel down to the park. I cannot bear it for one day.” I continued telling her, “I feel like walking over, looking them in the eye and saying to them that first of all they judge people who speak in English at home, calling them angrez (foreigner, typically from Britain) and show off and then they portray this fake image that they are worried what will happen to our mother tongues, that they would be endangered and all that stuff, and then like a chameleon why do they switch over to talking in English with their child when they see someone else converse in the same.  I asked, “Why are they ashamed to speak in their language then?”

And before you pass a judgement, know the facts. Just because a parent speaks to their child in English does not imply that they have no regard and do not intend to teach their child the mother tongue. The reasons could be varied. So stop judging and stop the weird transition which is even more annoying.

I was discussing this with a close blogger friend who also speaks in English to her kids and she told me a similar story. She has also received weird glances from people when she tells them that they speak in English at home. It’s often the most natural thing for many families as this is the language the parents converse in and it is but natural that this is continued once the child is born.

This is not to undermine other languages or give English a superior status as people often confuse it to be. I, on my part, am also acquainting my daughter with Hindi. I have often found that in India we are very protective of our vernacular languages and tend to disregard the common thread that binds us all and that’s Hindi, the most widely spoken official language.

When I visited Switzerland a few months back, what amazed me was the respect people had for the national language there. I would want my daughter to be equally fluent in Hindi and not just limit her focus on her mother tongue, but learn other vernacular languages as well.

I have lived in Maharashtra for a major part of my life and I am very comfortable in speaking in Marathi. In fact, I love the language and do not shy away from speaking it whenever I get an opportunity. I would want to inculcate a similar attitude and open mindedness in my child where she is open to learning new languages and does not consider any one superior to the other. I believe that all languages are equal, beautiful, unique and we must keep them alive.

The intent of this post is for people to really stop forming an opinion without being aware of the facts and let parents choose what they want to speak with their kids. They are mature enough to figure out when and how they want to pass on the knowledge of other languages to their child. Stop the pretense please when you suddenly switch from a vernacular to English after overhearing someone speaking it. If it appeals so much to you then, by all means, go speak it with your child but not just when you hear another.