05 January, 2013

Mind Your Language Talayalam Style ....


(picture courtesy : bilinguallibrarian.com via Google)

One of the effects of staying abroad, as I’ve noticed among the young population, is the fact that one’s mother tongue takes a backseat.  With English being used predominantly to communicate in school and with one’s friends, plus the fact that kids spend most of their day at school, usage of mother tongue, but naturally, wanes considerably. 

So I now find myself in a situation wherein I teach English as a Second Language at school and both me and Vic are trying to teach these two monkeys our mother tongue (Talayalam = Tamil + Malayalam) at home.  Learning languages is both, challenging and funny at the same time.  I’ve been trying to learn Spanish through Duolingo and there have been “foot in the mouth” instances – plenty of them.  Ask Macadamia and she’ll be only too happy to regale you with those.  I once had the whole house – all three of them laughing their hearts out when I said “Buenos Nachos” instead of “Buenos Noches” for good night.  Knowing only too well that Nachos are my favourites, they made the rest of the connections and I rested comfortably in the knowledge that my good deed for the day was done.

Remember the series Mind Your Language that used to have us rolling on the floor during our childhood days.  Well, we are pretty much having exactly that kind of a situation at home nowadays.   I am coming across very interesting episodes at school when teaching English to kids whose mother tongue is Chinese and once home, it’s Talayalam Time with Macadamia and Pecan.  We pretty much are Mr & Mrs. Brown, if one is to draw a parallel with the series and the kids are well, Giovanni Capello, Anna Schmidt, Juan Cervantes, Su Lee, Ali Nadeem, Jamila Ranjha – all rolled into one.  Well, you get the drift, right ?!

The entertainment value in situations like these is very high.  The kids know as well as we do that learning a language is going to lead to situations that are hilarious and that it’s all a part of the fun and the learning experience.  “Speak the language, make mistakes – don’t be afraid of making mistakes because that’s how you’ll learn.  Never give up on a language” is what I tell the elder kids at school and that’s exactly what we’ve said to Macadamia and Pecan as well.

We were trying to teach them the vocab for vegetables and fruits the other day.   The linguist in the family, aka Macadamia, who has this ability to soak languages up like the proverbial sponge, did not want to stop there.  She also wanted an addendum on the vocab for immediate family members.

They know the Amma and Appa bit.  On we went, plodding along like brave soldiers on a very cold war front, intimidating but we needed to forge ahead in the knowledge that this whole exercise would be fun and fruitful.   

Vic was just about to explain to them that “younger sister” and “elder sister” have two different terms in Talayalam but the moment she heard the word “sister”, up sprung Macadamia, hand high in the air, a huge grin on her face, eyes bright and alight and shrieked “I know I know” – Sister is Thengai in Talayalam.  Pecan immediately piped up, picking up from his elder sibling and went on to say “Naan Thengai Irukku” and to make matters worse, his index finger was firmly pointed towards his elder sibling. It was quite some time before I could stop rolling with laughter and even then, I must say it was an effort.  We then got around to explaining to them that Thengai means Coconut whereas Thangai means younger sister. 

 Added confusion results from the fact that they are learning bits of Hindi as well.  So now, we have a triangular confusion.  Yesterday, for example, Vic was giving them a couple of Malayalam Idioms to ponder over.  “Andi yennu aduthu ethumbol ariyum mangaiyide pulippu”  he said.  Literally translated, it means “when the outer layers are peeled off and you start towards the inner core/seed, you realize exactly how sour the mango is”.   “ What is Andi ?”  he asked them and yet again Macadamia was off the starting block, saying “Andi is an egg Andi is an egg”.  “Anda Andi” she said when she saw the mirth all around.  By then, she was rolling on the floor as well, shaking with laughter because she knew she’d confused Hindi and Talayalam now.

At this point of time, the huge positive is the fact that the kids do want to learn atleast basic speaking skills with regard to Talayalam (Macadamia especially is really gung-ho about the whole thing) and as far as we’re concerned, we look forward to more and more such Mind Your Language escapades right here, at home. 

Like George W. Bush once said “In my sentences I go where no man has gone before …. “

Likewise, with Macadamia and Pecan on a Talayalam learning stint, we are seeing our kids getting creative, and going places where they’ve never been before, with their sentences and phrases in a language that is pretty much unexplored territory.

Here’s to more ….. bring it on !!!



3 voice(s) said so:

Aparna said...

Sounds like fun! All the best :).
And believe me, even living right in India, English takes precedence completely nowadays and it's really tough to hold on to that mother tongue.

P.S: Your word verification is on.

Sirisha said...

I have made it a point to talk only in my mother tongue to the already English speaking 2 year old.. But English does dominate..

ruthdsouzap said...

Wow! This must lead to so many funny instances... we have our share too with two different dialects of our mother-tongues Konkani, plus Malayalam since my husband is from there and now Hindi and Kannada beginning in school. Besides that the Telugu influence from the neighbors around and we have our task cut out for us!

Ruth