My daughter has just turned two and I’m finding that she will not stop talking! It’s constant and never-ending babble. Granted, I understand only half of what she’s trying to communicate but nonetheless, she’s definitely saying something. When we (as in my husband and I, not the I-think-I’m-royalty ‘we’) found out I was pregnant, we decided to raise our daughter to speak both Punjabi and English. Punjabi being the first language for both of us and English being an obvious necessity.
Though we both agreed we wanted her to be bilingual, it really wasn’t such an easy decision. I grew up speaking Punjabi as English wasn’t exactly my parents’ forte. In fact, I walked into my first day of kindergarten with absolutely zero knowledge of the English language. I mean absolutely, embarassingly nothing. Luckily, I was naively unaware of the various taunts that I’m sure were thrown my way by the other kids. Later on and once I mastered the English language, I would be witness to and acutely observant of such taunts that would nonchalantly be directed at the new immigrant children. My heart would always hurt a little for them and a little for myself.
It’s cruel to grow up being made aware of just how different you are. It’s more than just being different, it’s being made to feel inferior that really wounds the soul. Unfortunately, that’s how you feel when you don’t speak the language of the masses. With those sorts of memories, you can be a bit wary of teaching your child anything but English. Especially as her crucial first language. At the same time, I wanted her to have a sense of belonging to the rich culture she is born into and that can be made difficult without understanding its language.
My husband comes from a different background. His dad grew up in England and as such, my husband had no difficulty with English at all. He also had an older brother who exposed him to the language early on. As such, he didn’t quite understand my fear of not speaking exclusively English with my daughter. He just knew he wanted her to know Punjabi so she could understand her grandparents. In his words, “we didn’t need to complicate it” and in the end, we didn’t.
One of the easiest ways for us to expose our daughter to both languages was through books. If any of you mommies out there are interested, there are some great multilingual story books for children at www.multilingualbooks.com. These books come in a variety of languages along with English so you can read either version depending on your mood. Some of my favourites are ‘Deepak’s Diwali’ and ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’. Another site exclusively for Punjabi/English books is www.giandukaan.com and a favourite is ‘My First Fruits’. My daughter loves her books and these allow her to be read to in either language. It’s a fun and simple way for her to learn the words in both the languages of her world.
Now my daughter speaks and understands both languages quite well. It seems I was worried about nothing. What’s most surprising for me is that although we speak to her predominantly in Punjabi, she responds to us in English the vast majority of times. Albeit, with an accent but it’s definitely English. Besides, a little girl saying “I lub ju” has to be one of the cutest things I’ve ever heard.