Can you speak more than one language? Did you pick it up through education or were you blessed to be born in a family where your mother tongue differed from your country of birth? Why am I asking you these questions? Recently, I’ve been thinking about the importance of my roots and how despite being born and bred in London, my ethnicity has played a massive role in shaping who I am. I recently went to watch some stand up by a British Asian comedian called Paul Chowdhry and as part of his routine, he asked a member of the audience, ‘what are you, where are you from?’ The woman gave no reply. Now, it wasn’t like she was being asked a brain teasing question that required a mammoth amount of thinking. The comedian then quipped ‘what do you write on a form?’ Then she finally managed to give an explanation on how she was born in England before being swiftly cut off by the man on the stage. In that moment, it surprised me how someone could not explain their ethnicity and I wondered whether there was a fear to let people know whether she was Punjabi, Gujarati or Bengali. She was sitting with her daughters and I really hoped that her hesitance to speak up wasn’t going to be passed on to her kids.
That got me thinking. If today’s parents cannot describe their roots or ethnicity, what on earth are their kids being taught? What are their kids learning about their ancestry? Do these children even know how to string a sentence in their mother tongue? Have they visited their ancestral country to find out where their parents or grandparents came from?
I am finding a lot of my relatives have young children who cannot speak Punjabi and it’s incredible how the parents are putting in no effort whatsoever in helping their kids become bilingual. Today’s British Asian parents probably don’t realise what they are making their children miss out on, by not exposing them to a different culture.
As people, we’re often very keen to explore the world, to travel, to see exotic locations and taste all sorts of food. To take in different music, cinema and art. To meet new people and learn about another culture. But one of the most important things we forget, is how having an ethnicity that is different from your county of birth, provides the biggest step in learning about a culture. Someone located in San Francisco wants a piece of that culture cake. You step into the world and that culture cake is ready for you to take in and change your perspective, enhance your knowledge and give you a different outlook to life. If parents placed emphasis on ensuring their kids learned their mother tongue, that would be enough to bring up a child who could turn into a more cultured being. Knowing I can speak Punjabi and Hindi so fluently, has allowed me to learn things about a different country and culture that is so different from the one I have been born into. I can watch movies, listen to a variety of music and travel to a massive country knowing that I can blend in and seek out treasures that other people want to as well.
So here’s my advice to the parents out there – teach your kids their mother tongue and take them to the country you were born in or your parents were born in.
“We understand the beauty of our mother tongue when we are abroad.”
– George Bernard Shaw