The Language Movement of 1952 was a powerful example of a peoples’ love and devotion towards their mother tongue. But it also showed that rights, even the most basic, have a heavy price to pay.
UNESCO cemented February 21 as International Mother Language Day, and, as Bangladeshis, not being aware of that is more than a bit sad.
Growing up in Dhaka and studying in an English medium school in the 90s, it wasn’t an unfamiliar scenario to know a lot about such events. In addition to learning in English, our teachers and parents made sure to instill Bengali culture in every aspect of our lives.
Every year, on February 21, I accompany my parents to Shaheed Minar, making sure to walk barefoot on the hallowed grounds. Which is why it is rather unfortunate that many of us, who have grown up to become parents now, choose not to introduce their children to the Bengali culture with the same level of passion that our parents had.
They want their children to be proficient in English and adopt a Western approach in their lifestyles. They are deliberately keeping their kids from learning Bangla.
The first word many of us Bangladeshis learn is, more often than not, “maa” or “baba.” While both of these words are in Bangla, parents these days later on teach their children to address them as “mom” and “dad.”
It is frustrating to know that these kids grow up to become ignorant of their culture and language. And their parents have no issue knowing that their children are slowly moving away from the mother tongue -- a language that so many people gave their lives for.
One of the major reasons for such negligence is that they are preparing their children for an international environment.
Linguistic intelligence is at a risk of being lost when individual children lose their potential for bilingualism
Most Bangladeshi parents want their children to complete their studies abroad at a good university. They want their children to do good in school and excel academically.
These children experience the foundation of their mother tongue being taken away at a very young age. Therefore, at some points in their lives, some children are left feeling excluded among their peers, due to not being able to cope with the communication gap.
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 one’s native language adds up to the overall development of a child.
In the age of smartphones, tablets, and YouTube, it is natural to expect a child to spend their leisure time online. They are more interested in staring at screens than playing with toys. And every bit of such entertainment they consume is in English.
Even when there are plenty of Bangla videos of the same kind, parents still opt for the English ones.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against children learning English, but I believe we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves and recalibrate the values we instill in our children by actively dismissing Bangla as a part of their lives.
Parents should strengthen their child’s foundation language first, then move on to having them master a second one. James Cummins, Professor Emeritus at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, stresses that linguistic intelligence is at risk of being lost when individual children lose their potential for bilingualism along with their ability to communicate with their grandparents who might not know English. This has a severe impact on the child’s cognitive development.
The right to speak our beautiful language, Bangla, was earned with much bloodshed, and today, sadly, we have taken it for granted.
If we don’t uphold its significance, it’s not difficult to imagine how coming generations might become completely alienated from it.
Aiman R Khan is an apprentice Advocate, Dhaka Judge Court.