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Do Indian parents living abroad feel the need for their children to learn Hindi?

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Years back, half of my extended family and friends moved offshore; it’s the second generation and in some cases the third generation now that is thriving there. The parents and grandparents who would travel go to meet the respective family once a year or when they were asked to pitch in their services when required for babysitting, I always wondered what it would be like to communicate with their off-springs who may or may not speak the mother tongue or Hindi.

As the world is shrunk, we consider ourselves as global citizens or citizens of the world.

Do Indian parents living abroad feel the need to teach children their native language or Hindi? Are the homes with Indian ethnicity overseas bilingual? Or the initial fear of being not the first citizens of that country makes the first generation of parents who have made their base in a foreign land somewhere feel alienated and are pushed by the desire of being like fish in water that moves them away from their roots, trying to find a ground?

SUBURB connected with some families to know their take on the sensitive subject, to each his own! We received some very heart-warming, honest responses; here we go:

Shikha Passey is a pharmacist, mother of two young adults living in Baltimore, the US. She says, “most of the parents who have settled abroad have left a life behind. Each of us has a dream to bring a part of that life with us and create an authentic and realistic amalgamation. I have a close group of Indian friends, and in our own way, we try to inculcate Hindi in our children’s lives. Some parents send their kids to Hindi schools to learn to read and write Hindi, and some more relaxed parents speak Hindi at home so kids can learn the language.

Parvathy Chockalingam, mother of two teenage sons living in Birmingham, UK shares a heartfelt incident that nudged, “It hit me hard and made me go numb, when my child shushed me with his irate eyes and raised brows; I had just arrived at this typical British primary school gate to pick him up, greeting him in Tamil, the world’s oldest language, our Mother Tongue. A few years later did I realise that the poor little thing did not want to stand out and wanted to feel included. That led us to a dual-lingo life so that my son could fit in, but stay connected to “his roots” and keeping his ethnic identity. He thrived and linguistically would mesmerise our parents and relatives back in India during our holiday trips.

Emotional bonding

Harshita Jerath is an Indian –American author for children’s books. She says, “As an immigrant parent, I believe in the advantages for kids to learn their native language. Foremost, it helps to establish deeper ties with grandparents and the rest of the family in the home country. The children can participate in heart-to-heart conversations and feel included in the ceremonies and family discussions. It gives the kids much-needed grounding and an avenue to imbibe their cultural heritage.’’

“Understanding Hindi not only connects the newer generations with the Indian culture, but it also serves as a bridge between them and their relatives and friends back home. It is true that sometimes children feel torn between the two cultures- trying to be normal American kids and then also working hard to live a life with the Indian value system at home. Following customs and family rituals from time to time brings in drudgery to children. I asked my 15-year-old daughter born in the US who speaks fluent Hindi what she thinks about being able to speak Hindi. She finds it fun to talk to me (her mother) in Hindi in front of her friends when she doesn’t want them to know what she is saying. It feels like a secret and private conversation between a mother and a daughter. However, as a parent, I love it when she plays Hindi music in the car and sings along with it. Most of all, when she can make a conversation with her maternal grandmother(Nani) in Hindi, I get a feeling of accomplishment. I have done my job well, says Shikha with the glee of joy.

Parvathy feels satisfaction to see both her sons connect and bond well with their grandparents, and uncles & aunts back in India. “They do not feel left out during family gatherings and our visits to India. Now, as teenagers, they can easily morph between the two societies at will.

For some parents living abroad it is an informed intentional decision not to teach their children their native language.

Monika Anand, a medical professional living in Santa Monica, California, with her husband and a teenage daughter, took an informed decision not to teach their daughter Hindi. “Both me and my husband were born and raised in India, so we spoke Hindi all the way during our growing up years. Having studied in a convent, English was my second natural language. When my daughter was born in 2006 in New York, my husband and I had a thoughtful discussion on the way forward – if we wanted to teach our daughter the language we grew up with. In the end, my husband and I realized that we chose to move to the US, so we should fully assimilate our family here. Not confuse cultures and set unreasonable expectations from our child. We figured that teaching our daughter Hindi was something to opt into if needed, not opt-out of. So I proposed that if she wanted to learn, we would teach her when she’s older, but until then, we would not force her. Although our daughter is Indian by ethnicity, she is American by culture, lifestyle, and other ways. And yes, she cannot speak Hindi though she can understand some bit. We are fine with it.’’

Saurabh Malhotra, the father of two young daughters, moved to the US more than 25 years back. Despite having a close family in India, he has not visited the home country much. “Whenever possible, we call our parents to the US. It would give them a good change, and for us, as a family, it was a happy break from the mundane. Initially, when my daughter was young, my mother tried teaching her Hindi, due to a lack of consistent practice, she couldn’t keep up with the language. Since her older sibling couldn’t speak Hindi, her younger sister was never attracted to the language. Our first language at home is English. Monika feels, learning a second or a third language is an asset, but then one should learn the language of choice, not force.

Economical factor

People speaking multiple languages always have a broader market share in work expansion. Being multilingual is beneficial, especially when the economies are global and the market values internationally.

“Besides the communication factor, there’s some level of comfort in knowing that being bilingual could manifest into more career opportunities not only in their resident country but also in their native place. If the kids decide to move to their home country, they’ll be greeted with less resistance if they know the language,’’ adds Harshita. Over and above the scientific claim of cognitive benefits, Parvathy being on the same page, adds, “I am sure that my children will make the best out of both worlds, economically.”

Saurabh is clear in his parenting ways, “I don’t want any confusion and everyday life which becomes a battleground. Our children are born and raised in the US; hence they have adopted a lifestyle that comes naturally to them. At home, we celebrate important Indian festivals and also Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween too. Despite the language barrier, my daughter is a Bharatnatyam dancer. Two years back was her Arangetram. She was naturally tuned into learning the dance form, so she did, and we facilitated it. About ever wanting to go back to India, well that I do not see it is happening.’’

Although learning a native language is not a make-or-break situation; it provides children living abroad a sense of identity and belonging, which boosts their confidence.

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