We should learn a second Indian language by choice

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Multilingualism is simply great, but a strained face in a language class takes the zing out of the spirit of all your great envisioning. In the context of national integration, which almost all school-goers across the country learn to articulate well in writing projects or while participating in school interlocution events, maybe in English, maybe in their own regional languages, the idea of introducing a foreign regional tongue sounds practical and ethical necessity but is not realistic at all. The hurried disagreement in the southern states against any presumed or real imposition of Hindi on them because of the prescribed three-language formula in the draft education policy recently released by the new government may not be entirely unfounded despite all the good intentions.

Like bilingualism, or multilingualism for that matter in the present context, when introduced at an early stage in schools, with children being quick learners, is believed to give them cognitive benefits.  Right? Not entirely. Language learning—especially if a sound is foreign to your ears and all words you learn makes no senseinitially, for a child, lingual support of his parents is necessary, who he might expect to pick those words equally as well and use  practicably at least with him, at least  for tutorial purpose. Like dancers needing two to tango, one needs an environment to put those learned words into one’s subconscious to be of practical use. The state of spoken English at vernacular medium schools should be an example.

The faltering, fumbling, the loitering for appropriate words during effective communication even at an advanced level is because of the handicap of the subconscious, which in turn is because of the absence of the appropriate setting in school and at home. However, many brilliant students overcome the hurdle, but you should know the enormous hard work they put in to develop the coveted fluency on their own, which is beyond the cognitive power of the majority of the deprived lot.

So, practically, the three-language formula, especially when a language is not one of your child’s choice (read parent’s choice), is self-defeating. Even if consensually put to test, the outcome may not be commensurate with the expectations. It may for sure take away the smiles from many cherubic faces at the pre-schools. The cognitive benefits that a child is expected to reap in by learning another regional language at the early stage of his schooling, may actually backfire.

In the absence of an appropriate setting at home and in the neighborhood, it may kill his natural aptitude to learn. Fear is if he draws any apathy to this unfamiliar introduction, which his family is opposed to for whatever reasons. English, for obvious reasons, is always welcome. Hindi does not enjoy the same privilege beyond the Hindi belt.

The choice of Hindi-English-any regional language in the Hindi belt and that of English-regional language of the state and Hindi in the south is too narrow. Beyond Hindi belt, the offer should be from a huge menu of the very many scheduled languages in the country, not just plain Hindi as a language along with the unavoidable English. Let them choose the language of any neighbouring state instead, the sound of which the pupils are already familiar with. It will in any way still help develop the cognitive power of young minds and do our Quami Ekta a great service.

As of Hindi, it is already nicely hitchhiking, piggy riding and stowing away its way into the minds of professionals and business class people in the urban centres of the non-Hindi belt. For practical purposes, you can still effectively communicate with people in rural areas where Hindi is not spoken at all. All you need is a smile on your face and a patient ear as the other person is doing his best to help you make sense in his own confident mother tongue.

The same is true vice-versa. Let’s not forget that there are a hundred languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all. Multilingualism undoubtedly bestows great power to your perceptive mind, yet without a smile on the face of the person who you are reaching out to, the talent is dud.

Despite all the good intentions in the draft education policy, the stage in the country seems not ready yet for any formal multilingualism at schools. Let us set the stage first. Let the process be natural and slow. Let learning of a foreign tongue go beyond commercial or academic necessities, which though offer helping forelegs for the stage.

Let languages infect our psyche for good reasons, the love of it may help families make choices for their children what another regional language they want their wards to learn. The suit will reveal itself for the new generation to follow. The day will surely come when the love of languages will be beyond the hate of politics.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Gurbir Singh

The writer is the author of the novel, ” The Homecoming Gods”(2020). He lives in Puri, Odisha.

He can be reached at [email protected]

(Image from the Net)

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