Teaching a child a new language is never an easy task and when you need to teach your child this language in foreign country, where it is rarely heard or spoken, the challenges faced can be extremely daunting. It is usually said that the key to learning any language lies in the continued use and exposure to it. Can this be achieved in a foreign setting?
In today’s context, many might question the worth of teaching their child Tamil, especially when they are in places where opportunities and resources are poor and usage is at a minimal. However, we do believe that there are still many parents who like us, appreciate the beauty of Tamil, value its richness and find it important to pass on the language and culture to our children. Rather than to feel overwhelmed by the task, it is important to identify the challenges you would face, so that they can be addressed and not feared.
Let’s start with a couple of common statements you would hear from your children when you try to introduce Tamil to them.
#1: “Mum! What’s this weird word – Tamil?”
Chances are, if you are living in a foreign country, where your child was born or been living there from a very young age, he probably would not even have heard of Tamil. Any mention of it would feel like hearing a strange incomprehensible word. Worse still, if you, your spouse and other family members living with you in this foreign country do not speak Tamil (which commonly occurs as you would be more used to conversing in English naturally), then Tamil, which is his second language, would instead be this strange foreign language, that would have no purpose to him. The true challenge making your child understand at a very young age, where they are most susceptible to picking up new languages, that Tamil is a language that is important to his roots, culture and heritage. Alternatively, you could make learning Tamil seem fun, so that even if you child does not understand why, he would still want to learn the language. We can focus on the heritage bit later 😉
#2: “My friend laughed at me when I said a Tamil word in school!”
It is difficult enough for your child to grow up and go to school in a foreign country where he would already seem to be different from the general child population. Sometimes, because other children are not familiar with Tamil, there might be a tendency for them to tease your child if he mentions any Tamil words, only because as children, they do not have the maturity to understand the variety of languages and cultures present in this world. This might cause your child to be reluctant to speak Tamil due to fear of being ridiculed and stigmatized as an outsider or “weird”. Again, creative teaching methods would make the language more appealing and using technological resources might make the language seem more “normal” and acceptable to your child.
Cultivating the right attitude in your child for learning anything is always a challenge, more so for sure, when you think in terms of Tamil. However, like the two examples above, focus on fun activities involving technology might be the key – we need to move with the upcoming trends and let’s face it, these days kids learn how to use smart phones and similar devices even before they can speak properly.
If you have already started teaching your child Tamil, then there are other challenges that you might have come across. A big one would be the differences in sentence structure in English and Tamil. I believe that the easiest way to teach Tamil in a foreign country would be to relate the Tamil words to English words that your child would be more familiar with. However, the verbs and nouns are positioned differently within the sentences of both languages and in trying to directly translate an English sentence into Tamil, the meaning of the sentence might be lost.
When a child grows up in a foreign country from birth or a very young age, the tendency to pick up particular accents specific to the country would be very high. These accents might pose as a hindrance to teaching your child Tamil as well, as your child may not be able to pronounce the Tamil words as they should. Accents are difficult to manipulate and sometimes, this too could be possibly frustrating for you.
Of course, the biggest challenge yet to be mentioned would be a lack of useful readily available resources that can be used to teach your children Tamil. In your home countries, there would be an abundance of textbooks, workbooks, posters, storybooks and various other materials that you can use to teach your child. However, in a foreign country, where would you find such resources? The unavailability of resources often becomes an excuse for parents to not teach their children how to speak Tamil. However, we often forget technology, an undermined resource in the area of Tamil. Using a smart phone or iPad application or various websites, for example, could help to alleviate this problem. The problem is that many of these available technological resources are not marketed enough and many parents are unaware that they have these options.
If you have been reading this and can feel yourself nodding your head subconsciously as you go along, well, just know that you are not alone. There are many other parents who face similar problems. What is important to realize, is that the task at hand is not impossible. As we go along, we would further explore teaching methods and tactics that you can use to help you through this process. We would also introduce tools that would be useful to your child and hope that together, we can achieve our ultimate aim – for Tamil to continue to live through to the next era, through continued passing on of the language from generation to generation, no matter where in the world we are.