“Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
Indeed language and culture are like two sides of the same coin – their relationship is deeply rooted to each other. Language is probably the most important tool used to convey culture and cultural ties. In turn, it is the cultural knowledge built that further enhances an individual’s motivation and potential to learn and absorb his language.
Many parents neglect to teach their children Tamil when they live away from their countries of origin as they feel that English is a sufficient enough mode of communication for their children to learn. The motivation to go the extra mile to ensure that children at least have the basic ability to speak, read and write Tamil would come from understanding that Tamil transcends beyond being merely a communication tool. It is through Tamil that you can ensure that your children do not lose their cultural identity within the highly westernized societies found away from your country of origin.
Teaching Tamil and the Tamil culture are not independent of each other. In fact, on the contrary, when teaching Tamil and its usage, it is important to also teach the cultural background that Tamil has. Rather than to impart meaningless symbols, it is culture that gives meaning to the Tamil words, no matter how basic they are. Most parents, however, are understandably not natural teachers and this article serves to show you the fundamental link between Tamil and our Tamil culture to keep in mind while teaching your children Tamil.
Firstly, the ability to speak Tamil would enhance the capability of your children to communicate with others within our communities living globally. Where English is commonplace, it is the ability to speak Tamil that would bond fellow Tamilians and make them feel like they have their own unique identity as a community. It is through this basic interaction between Tamilians that allows for the cultivation of cultural knowledge within the community and for the continuity of cultural traditions. What better way to convey cultural knowledge than in the language it was meant to be, ensuring that the meaning of our Tamil culture is not lost as it is passed down.
The ability to read Tamil is imperative in learning our culture. Written material depicting our cultural history, beliefs, practices, lifestyle, cuisine and all other aspects are more often than not, written in our own native language. Though one can argue that there are many English versions or translations available, the true meaning that is to be conveyed and the authenticity of the content is maintained only when it is in the language it was meant to be in. Beyond this, the added value in ensuring that your child can read and understand Tamil is that, there is a vast amount of educational material which can now be learnt and appreciated by your child. This ensures not just cultural enrichment but a growth in general knowledge as well.
A vital part of learning our culture would be through the appreciation of music and the arts of our culture. Songs, theatre productions, drama, plays, dance forms, martial art forms, poetry and prose – some of the most beautiful and brilliant of them all are written, conveyed and taught only in Tamil. Coming from a rich cultural background and heritage, it would be a pity, if children did not get the chance to be exposed to these and be able to understand them just because they have been born or are living in countries away from their native roots. Conversely, through being able to understand the various art and music forms in Tamil, children would be able to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the language itself. This will enhance the process of teaching Tamil and also spur them to want to learn it more in depth.
The evolution of language and culture are the cause and effect of each other. While it might be easier not to focus much on teaching both to your children, especially in countries where they are unlikely to use the language much, it is important to realize the worth of exposing children to their heritage. In this digital age, the tools to teach Tamil and our culture are readily available at the click of a button. Using everyday mainstream devices such as smart phones, computers, laptops and tablets, you too can ensure that your child is not deprived of his cultural identity. It is up to us to make sure that our language and culture do not become extinct and enable them to flourish even more globally.