Why are Dhaka parents not teaching their kids Bangla?

The Bangla language movement of 1952 is a powerful instance of one’s love and devotion towards their mother tongue. It showed how certain rights we get from birth may require a heavy price to achieve. UNESCO declared the day as International Mother Language Day to commemorate the language martyrs. And as Bangladeshis, not being aware of it is next to ungratefulness.

Growing up in Dhaka and studying in an english medium school in the 90s, it wasn’t unfamiliar knowing so much about such events. Besides teaching English, our teachers and parents made it sure to instill Bengali culture in our lives. Every year on the dawn of 21st February, I used to accompany my parents and walked barefoot to the Shaheed Minar.

But sadly, many of us who are now parents, have chosen to not introduce their children to bengali cultures or language. They want their children to be proficient in English and adopt a more western approach in their lifestyles. And I am not talking about expatriates. This is getting common specially among few ‘urban’ parents living in Dhaka. There are various reasons behind it.

The first word most Bangladeshis get to learn for the first time is ‘Maa’ or ‘Baba’. While both of these two words are Bangla, parents of today deliberately replace them with ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. They prefer English as their child’s first language. It is frustrating to know that these kids would grow up to become total ignorant to their culture or language. And their parents take pride in knowing that their children have lost their linguistic intelligence.

One of the major reasons is preparing their kids for an international environment. Most Bangladeshi parents want their child to complete their studies at a good university abroad. They want their child to do good in school and be ‘smart’ academically. The child experiences his/her foundation language being taken away at a very young age. They would find it hard to communicate with people outside their sphere. Therefore at one point in their lives, they are left feeling excluded and cannot fit right in.

According to a reputed speech-language pathologist Ana Paula G. Mumy, ‘To put a halt on the native language will only hurt the child’s language growth, and long-term negative effects will be inevitable.”

In her research, she emphasizes on how being able to communicate in the native language adds up to the overall development of a child. She says ‘I reiterate that children must be able to function/communicate effectively in their homes before they can function/communicate out in the community, so the native language cannot be stripped away, even for children with language delays.’  [Multilingual Living, 2013]

In the age of smartphones, tablets and youtube, children spend their leisure time online. They are more interested in staring at the screen than playing with toys. From games, movies to youtube videos, everything is in English. Toddlers and pre schoolers mostly pick up English words from interactive youtube videos.

Even when there are plenty of bangla videos of the same kind, parents would still opt to provide their child with english ones. I am not against children learning English but this mindset needs to change. Parents should strengthen their child’s foundation language first, then move on master a second one.

According to James Cummins, professor emeritus at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, “Besides individual children losing their potential for bilingualism and their ability to communicate with their grandparents who might not know English.” [ Arpita Bhandari, CBC ]

Such acts not only curtail the birth right of a person but restricts his/her overall development. Parents must be aware that it may come back at them someday. Learning the mother tongue is a great way of communicating. This beautiful language Bangla was bought with bloodshed and today we have taken it for granted.

If we don’t uphold its significance, the upcoming generation will hardly feel the need to do so. Parents must come together and let their child grow uninterrupted.
Teaching your child his/her native language is a charity and charity begins at home.

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