Mother Tongue Has Got Tongue Tied

Dear Diary,

My daughter does not speak her mother tongue and we often get criticised for this to the extent that people are telling us how to bring up our children and question our parenting.

We have tried to encourage it in our house, but both my husband and I speak English at home and she has been going to nursery from a really early age. I understand the importance of retaining our heritage but she really refuses to speak to us in our language despite understanding it, but comes home speaking French.

I do however feel a sense of pride when parents of children who only speak an Asian language talk of how difficult their children find settling into nursery. My daughter settled in find because she could communicate!!! Touche!!!

I feel that bilingualism is only effective in households where the mother tongue is strong, either by living in a exteded family household where grandparents are speaking it or where one parent only speaks in the mother tongue.

We have been advised to send our three year old to Saturday school so she can learn how to speak her native language. However, I am also thinking that she has enough to do and isn’t her native language English – this is what we speak at home.

It does make me sad that she cannot communicate with my grandparents but hell, my gradparents have lived here for over 40 years and cannot speak English. They cannot communicate with some of their grandchildren let alone great grandchildren.

I do feel we are responsible for the loss of our language, however, my husband and I come from households where English is dominant so it isn’t all our fault.


5 Comments to “Mother Tongue Has Got Tongue Tied”

  1. Great article.
    The poem ‘Search for My Tongue’ by Sujata Bhatt is one of my favourite poems and seems quite fitting for how many people might feel about losing their mother tongue:

    Search For My Tongue

    You ask me what I mean

    by saying I have lost my tongue.

    I ask you, what would you do

    if you had two tongues in your mouth,

    and lost the first one, the mother tongue,

    and could not really know the other,

    the foreign tongue.

    You could not use them both together

    even if you thought that way.

    And if you lived in a place you had to

    speak a foreign tongue,

    your mother tongue would rot,

    rot and die in your mouth

    until you had to spit it out.

    I thought I spit it out

    but overnight while I dream,

    મને હુતું કે આબ્બી જીભ આબ્બી ભાષા

    (munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)

    મેં થૂંકી નાબી છે

    (may thoonky nakhi chay)

    પરંતુ રાત્રે સ્વપ્નાંમાં મારી ભાષા પાછી આવે છે

    (parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)

    ફુલની જેમ મારી ભાષા મારી જીભ

    (foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)

    મોઢામાં બીલે છે

    (modhama kheelay chay)

    ફુલની જેમ મારી ભાષા મારી જીભ

    (fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)

    મોઢામાં પાકે છે

    (modhama pakay chay)

    it grows back, a stump of a shoot

    grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,

    it ties the other tongue in knots,

    the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,

    it pushes the other tongue aside.

    Everytime I think I’ve forgotten,

    I think I’ve lost the mother tongue,

    it blossoms out of my mouth.

    • Hello Mala,

      What a lovely poem. Thank you so much for your contribution. I am now on a mission to ensure my daughter has some ability to communicate in her mother tongue


  2. Hi Bunty,

    My sis and I always spoke English at home with the oldies speaking to us in English, Urdu and Punjabi. I think it will be harder to pass our parent’s language on to our children but perhaps it just depends on the child and their interests.

    When we were children, my mum regularly used to declare that she wouldn’t speak to us or answer our questions unless we said them in Urdu so of course no one spoke to her until she admitted defeat. And on the very rare occasions we would speak the conversation would be accompanied with bold dramatic acting as Urdu seemed so fluffy, formal and theatrical.

    I never spoke a single word of Urdu/Hindi until my first trip to India 4 years ago and suddenly after a week all the vocabulary I’d ever heard poured out of my mouth and I could speak very well without thinking or stressing about word order and grammar as I did with French or Italian.

    My sister seems less interested in speaking Urdu but perhaps it’s just because she hasn’t needed to. She does understand it perfectly well, she is the world’s biggest Amitabh fan after all (no one’s perfect).


  3. Hi Mala,

    The poem is lovely, I don’t understand the second language in it but that doesn’t matter.

    Thanks for sharing it.


  4. Dear Bunty

    I am a Third Generation Brit, my grandparents having moved here in the 50s, and get the impression that may be the same generation as your children? (Apologies if my assumption is incorrect!).

    I can’t speak my mother tongue, Urdu and Punjabi, but can understand both perfectly. I feel sad about this and with hindsight, I wish that I was coerced a little more to speak it more often.

    I used to think that if I had children I would much rather that they learn to speak “useful” languages like French, Spanish or German. But now my opinion has changed. I feel sad that I can’t read or speak Urdu fluently as this is a connection that I would have with all my ancestors. After partition, it is now almost impossible to trace who they were, what they did and where they lived. And now, in just three generations, I have lost possibly the only thing I would have had in common with them – their language.

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