“Your son will be at a disadvantage when he starts school given you talk to him in Urdu at home. He’ll struggle to keep up with his peers. ⠀
“Isi liey Hum tu apnay bachon se English mein hi baat kerte hain”⠀(That’s why we converse in English with our kids”)
This was 8-9 years back, at a desi gathering where, despite no one being in a competition, some people could not help but compete, even if meant comparing 2-3 year olds.
Without going into this ‘visiting card mentality’ some of us desis have, I would like to focus more on the real issue – of talking to our own kids in our own mother tongue being seen as something not posh enough.⠀
When will this colonial mindset leave our enslaved minds?⠀
When I had my 1st born, I knew in the very first few weeks of visiting the healthcare centres, the baby play and massage groups, the introducing food classes, that me and my husband were the only connection my little boy will have with Urdu, Desi food or Pakistani culture! Simple. I was aware being a British Pakistani will be his reality. The language, the attitude, the social norms of this country will be his truth. And I was fine with it, for we made the decision to raise him here so obviously we think this society offers something nice so why would I want to take that away from him. ⠀
But I was also well aware that if we don’t converse in Urdu with him, a language which comes naturally to me, a language I converse with my Amma Abba in, a language I watch Movies and Dramas in, then that language will be lost on him. And I didn’t want that. ⠀
I may sound selfish, but I wanted my kids to know me, understand me, understand my humour, watch movies with me, be able to talk to all my family on their visits back home (even with the British accented broken Urdu), in short, simply relate to me. Yes that would have been still possible if we talked in English but the essence wouldn’t have been the same, not for me at least. And this when I can say I have a good command over spoken and written English, so knowing the language was never a problem.
But its more me when I say ‘Maza agaya’ after some yummy food then ‘How Delicious’. You get it right?⠀
So yes, using Urdu at home was a conscious decision, just so our kids can stay somewhat relevant to our background and the culture we have come from. ⠀
Comments like the one mentioned earlier didn’t bother me but being a 1st time mum, I wanted to be sure just in case so discussed it with the health visitor and she laughed saying how I should be proud he will be well versed in 2 languages. She went on to highlight how bilingual kids have more active functioning brains. In fact, as per science, before the age of 5-6, kids’ brains are wired to learn 4 languages with ease. That, there, was any grain of doubt laid to rest.⠀
9 years later, today, that boy is a confident almost 11 year old, doing well at school, at par with his solely English speaking peers. Just last week at the Parent evening his teacher said something which actually brought this comment back to my mind, she said & I quote, “Sometimes the vocabulary he uses in his writings amazes me but of course I know he reads for pleasure, which is a rarity these days, so I can see where all the words & imagination is coming from”.⠀
I won’t lie, it made me feel like a proud Mama Bear, not because he was doing well but more because it was a sort of a validation that we didn’t put our boy at any disadvantage all these years & didn’t wrong him by exposing him to our mother tongue.
Yes English is what comes to him naturally and what my boys use as the main medium of communication amongst themselves. And that’s fine.⠀
However, it’s on occasions like visits back home, when he can join in all the fun, not just with the new generation but with the old ones too. To see him experience & understand their ‘shafqat’, in it’s truest essence, makes my heart fill with warmth and it’s in those moments that I feel, at least we managed to get something right.⠀
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