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Do you remember which language you spoke at home when you were a child? I bet it was your mother tongue, even though you might have studied in an English medium school.

I have studied in an English medium school in Ahmedabad, but apart from school, we hardly conversed in English either at home or with friends. Hindi being my mother tongue, I mostly talked in Hindi. With my Gujju friends and neighbors, I conversed in Gujarati once I learnt the language, which I remember I learnt pretty early.

Speaking in Hindi as a child didn’t hamper my language learning ability. I can read, write and speak in Hindi, English, Gujarati and French. And, I can understand Marwari and Marathi. However, though I am very comfortable speaking in English, sometimes I get tongue tied or feel hesitant while conversing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is not my first language.

That was one of the primary reasons that pushed me to talk to my child in English as early as when she was in my womb. I wanted her to be fluent in English and not hesitate while speaking it, as that would be the language of instruction in school. I wanted her to be as fluent in English as she would later on be in Hindi (Hindi being the language spoken at home, I presumed, would come to her naturally).

So, my 6-year old daughter not only speaks English, but also thinks and reacts in English. Sometimes she mumbles in sleep, that too in English. English is her first language and her mother tongue. Mother tongue can be a very confusing term. A mother tongue is a language that a child learns at the lap of her mother, even when that language may or may not be the primary language spoken by her mother or in the family. While the first or primary language is the one that a child is first exposed to, whether at home, community, kindergarten or school. They can be sometimes different, especially in a multilingual country like India.

Despite an excellent command over English, for her age, for a very long time, her Hindi was not what I expected it to be. She hesitated speaking in Hindi as it required more effort, and she was not ready to step out of her comfort zone. She refused to speak to anyone who conversed in Hindi. She didn’t even talk to her grandparents or friends because they didn’t know English. It was a matter of concern for me. I had wanted her to speak in English, but not at the cost of Hindi, the family and national language. I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. That’s when I started teaching her Hindi. Now, two years later, she can read, write and speak in Hindi. It’s not as good as her English yet, but she will get there soon. She is also exposed to other languages like Gujarati, Punjabi and Marathi. I am not very concerned about her learning other languages, as it is very easy for a child living in India to be bilingual or plurilingual due to access to so many languages.

A month ago, I came across an article that said little kids should be encouraged to talk in their mother tongue/family language. Intrigued, I dove deeper and came across many articles that clearly said that learning in mother tongue first plays an important part in your child’s success. A lot of benefits were cited. I am presenting a few of them which I felt most worthy:

  • A person has a better capacity to understand things in his/her mother tongue.
  • S/he is able to learn related languages faster. For example, a person who knows Konkani can pick up Marathi, Malayalam easily. Likewise, Hindi speaking people learn Gujarati, Marwari easily.
  • S/he is able to express ideas and feelings better in his/her mother tongue.
  • Because it’s a language that is easily understood by her/his social community (friends and family), s/he is able to develop his/her social skills and build her/his own social community.
  • Some articles went as far as to announce that new and original ideas take birth and get shaped only in one’s own mother tongue and that most great writers have been able to produce great literature in their own language.
  • As you have a better understanding of grammar and syntax in your mother tongue, you can apply the same knowledge while learning a foreign language and pick it up faster.

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