Why English and not Tamil at home?

[ After posting article  Does IT include Indian languages?, a friend shared her perspective/feedback in email.  After  reading her inputs, I can connect from where she comes from and  agree the huge effort required to introduce Indian languages in IT. Today I see an opportunity for Indian languages  to ride  the wave of internet usage driven by e-commerce and tax-commerce companies. if we miss this wave, Indian languages in IT is something to be forgotten. Here is her response for your reference.]

I wish to put some things in perspective. I often hear this lament from people who have ‘been there’ and ‘done that’ – i.e people who speak and think in English often complain that their mother tongue is dying and everyone should support it. I beg to disagree.

To communicate in a language is a person’s choice – I know the amount of struggle I go through when I need to communicate in Hindi – and can empathize when someone else goes through the same struggle in English. English is the language of business and you and I have  travel abroad and work there because of our comfort in that language. We simply cannot deny someone else that choice.

When my children were young and in an age where they were learning to speak, I was employed full time in a corporate job. Our choice of housing and location to be ‘close’ to office did not agree with elders in our family and they chose to continue staying where they were. I used to leave my children in a good day-care with a tamil-speaking elderly couple. But there were other children in the same day-care whose parents came from different places in India. So, Aunty and Uncle spoke to all children only in English and that’s how my children started to utter their first words in English.

When I used to get back from work, the idea was to talk to children, to communicate with them how their day was. To insist they speak in Tamil in which they did not have adequate vocabulary did not help serve the purpose as they were very young and used to get frustrated when they did not get the words to communicate. So, we relaxed rules and it continues to this day  – we talk to our children in Tamil and they respond back in English. We communicate what we think and the matter ends there.

Language has to be spoken, absorbed, thought in and repeated – an immersion process that often children whose parents have migrated away do not get. Especially so in nuclear families. Also, language is a not an isolated entity – history of the place where the language originated, festivals we celebrate, the way we dress, food we eat, our choice of entertainment, our thoughts all have an impact on this learning process. In times, when both parents work, do we have the time to do this – to establish this environment? I have tried and I have failed. In Bangalore, we do not celebrate Pongal or Karthigai Deepam with the same gusto we used to do when we are young – no one else outside of home does it and it does not propel children to absorb the culture.

Recently, my children’s music teacher started an exercise that all her students must read and write Tamil. While I heaved a sigh of relief, my teenaged son rebelled. His stance is that he does not connect with Tamil the way he connects with English. His world has changed – he does not grow up in a place where he can immerse himself in Tamil and his ‘bhavam’ will never be correct. His emotions are better communicated in a language he is comfortable with -I,e English. Some of us may still have family ties in Tamil Nadu, but we may not be able to afford the luxury of ‘sending’ our children there to absorb the language.

I recall the days when I worked in Paris – I met a Tamil family who had emigrated there. While two of the siblings spoke Tamil (they grew up in Chennai), the last two spoke only French [not even English]. Everyone else spoke Tamil and they responded back in French. I could not speak to them as I did not know French. Same background, Same language, no communication :

In a metro like Bangalore, especially in new areas where multi-level housing complexes are located, English seems to be the language of communication. So, children naturally tend to speak in a language that helps them to connect with other children to get their message across. Is it correct to force children (or people) to learn a language when we cannot provide them an environment they can immerse themselves to develop fluency  OR show them a future where learning this is important for livelihood, so that they will learn?  Remember we live in a world where most people’s choice is based on utility values and not on emotion

All technology updates or news that impact our lives are in English, the world is becoming smaller so we meet people from different parts of India / globe more often that we did 25 years ago. We need to accept change. Yes, we need to be more neutral as you put it, but how many of us have the depth to translate English based technical articles to Tamil on a daily basis so that people can consume it to eliminate information asymmetry?

I love Tamil and I still read Tamil literature to unwind. But I am pragmatic too – while I will continue to teach  my children to ‘at least’ speak the language, I also know that most of these things will quickly become symbolic. My spouse grew up in Bangalore and his Tamil is also a little challenged. He does not connect with the language or is emotional about it, the way I am. My in-laws ‘supposedly’ speak tamil but it is mostly Kannada. So in families that are multi-lingual like mine, it is a greater challenge. We speak English to eliminate mis-understanding and keep relationships intact.

I rest my case. And I know I am not alone.