During my very uneventful summer vacation, I took it upon myself to learn a new skill. As many skill-seeking individuals do, I jumped onto Duolingo in hopes of mastering a foreign language that could be used to enhance my resume. I started with improving my French but jumped to Spanish when I was tired of conjugating verbs. Soon I was saying hello in German and goodbye in Korean. Feeling exhausted from the language learning, I thought about a language that would be easier to learn. I then came across my old notebook from when I was a child and was surprised to find Telugu letters written inside.
In case you are wondering, as many people do when I say Telugu, Telugu is one of India’s many languages, hailing from the state of Andhra Pradesh.
As a second-generation immigrant in Canada, my parents were always keen on teaching me my mother tongue, Telugu. They spoke to me in Telugu and soon I also was able to speak the language. However, Telugu is not the most popular language amongst Canadian immigrants. As I went to kindergarten and elementary school, I began to lose the ability to speak in Telugu as English was the language spoken by others. Even amongst my peers in the South Asian community, none of them spoke Telugu, making the language seem of less importance to my life. I slowly began forgetting the language as I grew older, which was inevitable due to my growing discomfort of speaking in the language. Even at home, I spoke to my parents only in English as I couldn’t express myself fully in Telugu. Unless I was talking to family members who did not know English, Telugu was never used. It slowly became a language that I spoke once every two weeks during phone calls to my grandparents in India.
As I found my old notebook, I felt regret for not pursuing my own mother tongue. I had tried time and time again, by the persuasion of my mother, but was never successful in moving past the first set of letters in the alphabet. Thus, I decided that I would learn Telugu.
Connecting with Yourself
Learning as an adult has its pros and cons. It is easier to memorize letters, but harder to differentiate between sounds. But little by little, I found myself connecting to my roots. It felt as if I was rediscovering a part of myself that I have been ignoring for a long time. Words that my parents would speak in Telugu started to sound clearer and my grammar had improved tremendously. Sometimes I would come across Telugu books at home and can now recognize some of the letters. There is a sense of connecting with myself that I feel like learning my mother tongue has brought. Other than connecting with myself, learning Telugu has allowed me to connect better with my family. I am more confident now in speaking the language with my parents at home and with grandparents over the phone.
Keeping the language alive
Another reason that I believe it is important to learn your mother tongue is for the sake of keeping the language alive. I find that Telugu is changing every year as words are forgotten and replaced with English ones. Even my grandparents who never learnt to speak English have forgotten Telugu terms and vocabulary as the many things are anglicized. I want to be able to pass on this language to the next generation, just as my parents did for me. Sometimes you cannot translate Telugu to English because Telugu holds its own beauty. Telugu poetry and literature holds so much depth and meaning that no English translation will ever do it justice. Though being able to speak Telugu may not do me that big of a favor in the corporate world, it has given me the chance to discover more about myself and my identity.