Monday, 18 June 2007

is it important?

English, or "world Englishes" as it it sometimes known because there are so many different varieties spoken throughout the world, is now the second most widely used language in the world (mandarin is the first). so as the world aspires to speak English, does that mean other languages are not as important?

i think Britain must be one of the only places in the world where the majority of children can't speak more than one language, and as it is no longer compulsory to take a language to GCSE level, the situation can only get worse.

but what if you've grown up bilingual and have always spoken another language alongside English, whether that is urdu, punjabi, bangla, arabic or any other language? is it important to you? would you want to pass it down to your children or do you think it's insignificant, as English is your language now, or you would prefer to teach them arabic, the language of the Qur'an, and think another language on top of that would just get in the way?

because that's what i'm seeing with the third generation of children now. whether it's unintentional or done on purpose, they are finding it impossible to communicate with their grandparents.

and i think it's rather sad.

i think it's important to try and preserve a language, not necessarily for religious reasons, or because it's an important language, but because it's part of your heritage and part of who you are. there are many theories around that language is part of your culture and identity (here's one)and i think that makes sense because the language you use shapes how you "think" and how you see the world.

ok, some people might be thinking "um but you don't speak a word of urdu" which is true (i've got a few phrases i use though but only ever write them down and never say them!), and my mirpuri.. well let's just say my parents understand me, but have to "translate" to make it comprehensible to anyone else!
but i'm trying though, and i will make the effort when speaking to elders, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable.

so, what do you think? should we let these home languages die with us and focus solely on english and arabic, or is it important to pass them on?

21 comments:

'liya said...

Children who know more than one language are able to learn (memorize things) faster. I only know one language but my parents and my grandparents speak English so that's not a problem, however I do think it's a good idea to know more than one. I took French up till grade 11 just because I thought that it's cool to know more than one. After that I tried to teach myself French on my own (through a CD, yes, so pathetic, but I gave up because I got bored of it - I wish I had continued).

Arabic is always a MUST so (Muslim) parents should never make excuses there - of they expect their children to pray it's something that the parents need to teach them. I can read Arabic and understand most words, but I want to learn how to write it (properly). It's so beautiful in writing!

hema said...

some very god points liya, thanks. children who speak more than one language do memorise faster, and i's so much easier to learn languages when you're a child anyway. i really wish i'd been taught arabic when i was a child, it would be so much easier than trying to learn it now. i don't understand why it's not taught in the mosques, insead they (tried) to teach me urdu?

do your parents or grandparents speak arabic? you mean write as in caligraphy? it does look beautiful, but i don't have the talent or patience in that department. you love art anyway, so i'm sure you would be briliant at it. you should make the time for it. and then send me some of your work!

i took german until grade 10 (i think it's grade 10- does anyone know what GCSE level is in american speak?) and loved it, really wished i'd carried on with it.

i wish i knew more languages.

Rosashe said...

I know of parents who seem to think teaching your children two languages 'confuses' them and the child ends us talking gibrish. Well, everybody in my family grew up with more than one language and often more than one dialect, and we are all fine. I think one of the reason some parents dont want their children to learn other languages is because they themselves want to be more 'British'. I wonder if most of the Welsh population who still speak their language feel any less British because if you are in Cymru even the road signs are in Welsh.

I personally would persuade my children to learn different languages, as I beleive it is an important step in being truely global, which after all what all the muslims should feel they are.

Lucyp said...

Us English can be very arrogant when it comes to our language. If i had a pound for everytime someone has said "Why learn the language, they all speak English there" i could afford some of those rossetta stone language CD's.

Snowdrops said...

parents should encourage their children to learn languages...not only to preserve their identity...but also for da'wah. i mean it would be difficult for a person to give da'wah if for starters, they didnt even understand the contents of the Qur'an. Also, learning other languages is going to help them give da'wah to people of other background etc.

Faz said...

I think learning languages is important because if we started learning the same language pretty soon we all will be the same. Globalization is contributing factor to this where everything is becoming the same old cultures and cutoms are dying out and placed with americanization of the world. I would want my children to learn different langagues, no matter how much you try to tanslate something its never the same as when you speak that langague and a lot of misinterpration or misunderstanding can occur. I would teach my children urdu rather than mirpuri because I think urdu is much more proper and its the most tameez langaguage even when your insulting someone its very polite and arabic is definately a top priority. It is hard to learn I have tried and so much to learn and yes I wish my isalmic school taught me arabic and only taught me urdu or Gujarati.

Faz

hema said...

sheila- I know of parents who seem to think teaching your children two languages 'confuses' them and the child ends us talking gibrish

really? that is a bizarre way of thinking. the capacity of children to learn langauges side by side is amazing, i don't understand why you would want to deny them the opportunity if you are able to teach it to them.
that said, i know people who start off trying with good intentions of speaking to their child in both langauges, but the child always ends up speaking English, because s/he is hearing it more often!

lucyp-i know exactly what you mean, and it is very arrogant. yes, most people can speak English, but why should they be the ones to swtioch languages, especially if you arein their country!

snowdrops, that's a good point about dawah, although it may be difficult to learn the whole language- just afew phrases will do to show you care anough to learn.
so how good is your bangla then;)

farzana- yep, tahts was my point exactly, if everyone ends up speaking English, it means other languages will die out and i think that's really sad.

I would teach my children urdu rather than mirpuri because I think urdu is much more proper

noo--oo not you to. mirpuri rocks remember. i don't see why people say urdu sounds better. i know it carries more prestige but if you think of the actual sound of it, it is actually quite harsh.
i guess teaching them urdu means they can communicate with more people though, including people from bangladesh, india etc

just a temporary measure said...

you definatly learn languages better as a child...i'm sure urdu was my first language until i went to school, and even though i'm not fluent as i was, i can still speak it and read it quite well. Whereas in my teens i went to arabic classes but i really don't know that much arabic at all, same with french, i only know what our teacher made us memorise for our speaking tests!!
I think it's summat to do with the "window of opportunity" i remember doing about it once in language acqusition. The idea is based on neglected and feral children who haven't had enough human contact or the right opportunities to learn even one language. If they're past the age of about 10 it's much more difficult to teach them any language..they've missed the window of opportunity. I suppose the same is true for second languages.
I think urdu is the best!!! even though most of my family speak punjabi i feel a need to speak to my elders in urdu it just sounds more polite especially with my grandma, my parents can speak english but i practice my "punjabi" out on them!! i definitly agree with you Hema, about the fact that you can communicate with more people in urdu

Snowdrops said...

did i ever tell you i spoke bangla? lol i don't remember =D

yes alhamdulillah...i speak it full time with my parents so its fine...my parents teach my little brother bengali since he usually tells us that he doesn't understand when speaking to relatives.

I never understood the importance of keeping ones language until i read this post Alhamdulillah =)

Jen said...

Kids are like sponges when it comes to learning languages for example. I know in this household I want my children to learn my mother language of Spanish and their dad wants them to learn Arabic. Although it may seem they speak gibrish or mix up English, Spanish and Arabic. There is a method to all their language madness. They're in my opinion trying to sort it all out. But they definitely understand what is being said to them. My 2yr old says many words in Spanish, and in English and although hasn't said anything in Arabic she understands it. My 3yr old says words in Spanish, English and Arabic. Who knows they might be little UN ambassadors LOL ;). Anyway my point is I think it's important to teach our children other languages especially if they're our mother language because knowledge is power and it can only help them later on. A better job, wider demographics for dawah, and soo...cool to speak in another language when you don't want people to understand what you're saying in public *wink*. I'm all for it here!!! Great post sis. Hugs ;)

hema said...

jtm i definitly agree with you Hema, about the fact that you can communicate with more people in urdu
incidently, hindi/urdu is the third most widely spoken language in the world, closely followed, Jan, by spanish!

snowdrops- u didn't tell me, i read a comment on someone else's blog where you were talking about bangladesh and used my deduction skills to conclude you were bangali .obviosuly i was right!

jen-i'm glad you agree. i think that was my first cyber hug, here are some cyber flowers in return:)

spanish and arabic are very similar right? do you think that contributes to the confusion?

Saabirah said...

Urdu is definitely nicer than Punjabi. Anyone who says otherwise either prefers Bhangra to Bollywood (even though both are haram) or cannot speak Urdu and are too embarassed to admit it... cough hema cough.

Umm Maymoonah said...

Someone advised me that if you do want to teach your children different languages at a young age, each should be done by a different person, for example I speak Bengali to my child, her dad speaks english and someone else speaks just arabic.

thoughts?

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

My dad speaks 7 languages, I speak 4 (although I suck pretty bad in 2 of them), my American mom...1! That's pretty typical of Americans unless they are "off-the-boater's" or second generation. When I went back to the "old country" 2 years ago, every one I met wondered why my name is like theirs, I look like them, and I couldn't speak their language better than a two year old. I had to explain that my dad thought we'd get confused with more than one language in the house, as did happen with my older sister and brother, so he banned anything but English. As an adult, I feel I've been robbed of a piece of my heritage. I have the exact opposite policy with my kids...it's Arabish all the way in my house and it usually results in my saying everything twice, once in each language.

YMiss said...

Languages and speaking more then one is defintly important. Think we've had all the reasons as to why, so all I will add is that as of 2010 MFL (modern foreign languages) will be compolsary in all primary schools.

One of the arguments against it is the fact that at high school the children may end up being in a set which is teaching a different language to what they were taught in primary school. Or that in high school they may be going over stuff they did in primary school which will create boredom.

I'm looking forward to teaching MFL...its a shame it is just MFL and not all languages but hey small steps can make a difference too.

Need to start practicing my french again......au revior

AnonyMouse said...

Eek... I'm guilty of being that third generation who doesn't know how to (really) speak a second language!
My grandparents speak Gujarati, but I don't know more than a couple phrases, and I understand only a bit more than that. I find it quite frustrating, really, because other elder relatives will speak to me in Gujarati and I'm just standing there smiling and nodding like an utter fool!!! =S

I also started learning a bit of Arabic, and can hold a sort of "introductory" conversation (salaam, my name is ---, how are you?), but that's about it... which also sucks, because many Arabs mistake ME for being Arab and it's quite embarassing having to stop and tell them that I don't understand what they're saying to me!

I think the hardest bit is not being an environment where the second (or third) language is spoken often... I wish now that my parents did speak to us more often in Gujarati when we were younger (hehe, my grandparents are always scolding them about that!), or even Arabic (my dad speaks fluently and apparently when I was really young he'd speak to me in Arabic, but when we moved to Canada he stopped)... :(

hema said...

saabirah- hey,i admitted i can't speak urdu OR punjabi!! all i'm saying is, do people really think urdu "sounds" nicer because of the actual phonetics, or is it more to do with the social aspect of it all?? we had a german family staying with us that said mirpuri sounded realy pretty "like spanish!".
it's like with different accents. if you ask someone who doesn't live in britain what they think of the cockney accent (for example) they are more likely to think it sounds cool, because they don't have the social baggage so base their opinion on the sounds alone.
anyway, remember when we first met, you said you wanted to learn punjabi-not urdu!!

umm maymoonah-erm.. i think the basis for that would be to avoid confusing the child, and also they are more likey to use both languages if they associate it with a particular person, or context (eg home/school) i know the theories state that children are unlikey to be confused, but i haven't been around children much so i don't know, if people are saying children get confused, maybe they do..
personally, i think the method you are stating is a bit unnatural.i would rather just blend all the languages in together, and the child will naturally sort them all out later on, even if it doesn't seem like s/he will at the time.

hema said...

daisy- wow 7 languages is an awful lot! i'm glad your childen are learning both languages. it's going to be a lot easier for them as they will naturally hear both, due to the fact that they have english speaking parents but live in an arab country. i can imagine it would have been a lot harder for your dad living in america..

ymiss- is that happening in 2010? i thought i was a lot sooner than that. i just hope teachers are adequately trained, it would be adisaster otherwise.
oh, and regarding your latest post, (seen as can't comment on it on your blog!) i hate to say i told you so but.. i went to a catholic primary school and was excused from all the assemblies. i had to sit on the carpet all by myself and read books. come to think of it, it probably did me good..

annoymouse- wow so your third generation, that's interesting! i think maybe a trip to india would help sort out your gujarati! have you ever been?

YMiss said...

Hema - we live and we learn! It gave me motivation to start something more info on my blog coming soon(ish)

Sumera said...

I speak English but with my accent it sounds like another language! I've been told we have ruined the English language :p

Children are good at languages. We spoke 2 languages at home and never had a problem at school!

southernmuslimah said...

I think it's great to know as many languages as possible. It opens up the opportunity for da'wah in many circumstances and it is such a good career boost. If you are multi-lingual it looks very good on a resume. :)