Recently, just after Ugadhi, (Telugu New Year) I received a lament from my uncle via email. His bemoan was about his children inability to speak Telugu; his wife is Tamil and as a homemaker, she raised her children on Tamil and English as the medium of oral and aural communication. He dubs his kids, Tamil-anized, their brains, imbibed with entertainment from Kollywood, Hollywood not to mention Bollywood rather than Tollywood.
My uncle's dissapointment got me thinking. Why such a scenario? What went wrong and can the wrong be amended. The answer is, YES, OF COURSE!! All of it lies in desire, effort and practice; it's not like we are born speaking half a dozen languages. Languages have to be learnt, like everything else in life.
Indians (especially Indian diaspora) are advantageous for being multi-lingual because of India's extant diversity, richly awash with sterling history and pride. An Indian almost always knows to speak at least 2 languages. It's an irrefutable fact. There are no cons for being able to converse in different languages; there are only pros.
Yet, it is the trend among Malaysian Indians, especially the younger generation to refrain from speaking their respective mothertongues, that is Tamil (the majority of Indian population in Malaysia), Malayalam and Telugu, with Punjabis being an exception. For some obfuscated reason, Punjabis in Malaysia don't consider themselves as Indians despite originating from Punjab, India. That's another story altogether that must be told and I shall elaborate about it in my next blog.
Tamil, being the most circulated Indian language in Malaysia is ubiquituously spoken by non Tamil Indians here, not only by those who attended Tamil primary schools but those who go to national schools like myself are eloquent in Tamil. I didn't speak Tamil until I was 11. I picked up Tamil from my Tamil speaking peers in primary school, Tamil movies and songs. Factually, I speak Tamil better than I do my mothertongue. As a matter of fact, I taught myself to read Tamil but I can't write effectively. I also know enough Hindi to survive in Maharashtra without a tour guide.
Intermarriages among Indians in Malaysia decide the fate of their mothertongues; they may keep it alive by speaking it to their progeny or choose to eschew it subjectively, on personal grounds or preference.
My third sister's boys, all 3 of them can't speak a word in Telugu. They speak English at home. They are the high-class Macha group, Westernised lots who frown upon thosai and coconut chutney. My sister married a Telugu man whose parents decided that their son is better off not speaking Telugu and he is continuing the legacy, an inheritance of sorts. They don't speak much Tamil as well so their grandmother, (my mother) who doesn't speak much English resorts to Malay language in order to be understood by them and be understood in return. It is indeed, whimsical to watch.
Partly analogous is my youngest sister's 3 sons language prowess. This sister of mine married a Tamil man and she lives in a joint family and the official language in their domain is Tamil. They are the 3rd class Macha group who only watch Tamil serials on SunTV during primetime and have no clue who Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry is, with my sister being a lone exception. My these 3, rambunctious nephews make fun of Telugu words rather than try to learn the language and what's worse, my sister laughs along with them.
The scenarios I highlighted above is happening in every Indian household here with exceptions being as sparse as the hair on Dr Phil McGraw's head. It is up to the parents to phase in their mothertongues into their kids' tongues. Our children are not incompetent; we think they are incompetent. Guide them in the right trajectory in a positive approach and they will respond by surpassing your highest expectations.
Knowing one or two extra language makes one go the distance, it gives an edge and leverage. We live in the age of communication, so there is no timely time to have the ability to speak several languages under your belt including your mothertongue. We have nothing to lose but all the more to gain.