Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Language Barrier

The elder child goes to an international school. Which means this is a school where every child, on average speaks about 3 languages fluently. Feeling woefully inadequate since both kids now speak just one language passably and although they understand the second perfectly, refuse to communicate in it, my inner dragon mum arose with a roar and I decided that I would speak in only the mother tongue with the kids, until I could show my face in the international community again as a mother of multi-lingual children.
So, the next morning, as the kids come down, sleep-addled, I ask them in Tamil to hurry up and drink their milk. Five minutes later, I seem to have the need to repeat the same instructions in a louder tone (still in Tamil) to kids.  A further two minutes later, I’m loud enough to rattle window panes and I have to ask the kids if, overnight, they seem to have contracted a sudden case of deafness. To which the elder one nonchalantly replies, ‘Oh, sorry, Ma, since you were talking in Tamil, I assumed you were talking to Appa.’ Grr. Of all the times to ignore adult conversations, they choose the one time I’m not having one.
Undaunted, I continue with my endeavours with the Tamil conversation throughout the morning. The kids, also undaunted continue to listen to all I have to say and just answer me in English. This is so not going according to plan! I am resisting the urge to bang my head against the wall. Right, I retreat into the kitchen and over the course of preparing lunch formulate a new plan. At lunch, as we are sitting down, the younger one asks ‘what’s fo’ lunch, Amma?’  I ignore her. ‘Ma?’ asks the younger one not one to be deterred easily. This ignoring thing is such fun, I think to myself. And I’m barely able to complete the thought before my head is suddenly whipped around, and I’m staring at a pair of round eyes millimetres from my face. And the question is repeated at ear-splitting decibels. ‘WHAT’S FO’ LUNCH, AMMA?’ After the ringing in the ear subsides, I calmly inform the crew gathered around the table that I shall only understand conversations in Tamil during the course of lunch. The husband looks at me like I’ve announced that I want to run away and join the circus (actually, given our daily antics, that wouldn't be too far -fetched), snorts and asks me to pass the dal. The kids initially try to get me to answer them despite their use of English and as I continue to ignore them pointedly, settle into sullen silence. It’s actually quite nice for a while, to have lunch in relative peace and quiet, without constantly having to play judge and jury.  And then slowly I see an evil gleam creep into Child No.1’s eyes.  Looking to Child No.2, he says, ‘you know, now that Amma says she can’t understand English, you can talk about that secret thing you did, and she won’t know at all.’ Child No.2 gets an equally evil gleam in her eyes now and she responds. ‘Oh. That thing. But Amma will never find out about it. Unless it starts to smell. Will it smell?’ And both of them erupt into a fit of giggles.
Unbelievable! Kids, who mere seconds ago were at each other’s throats have now developed camaraderie to the point of ESP! And what was the thing they’d done? And where?  I feel a trickle of sweat running down my back as I picture my lovely silk sarees smelling of God-knows-What.  Or finding something squelchy in my best, going-out-to-an-event-that-requires-heels shoes. No. I wasn’t going to admit defeat to a couple of things barely knee-high. And through gritted teeth I tell them the consequences of finding something unsavoury where unsavoury things ought not to be. In Tamil. The husband at that point politely points out that that is the sort of language that he was hoping the kids wouldn’t learn. And at that moment the kids decided to miraculously pick up the language and started gleefully yelling out those lovely Tamil words at each other.
I have now resorted to saner methods of introducing Tamil to the kids – tamil soaps, hoping that they will pick up the language if they hear enough of it. Sadly, the only thing they seem to have picked up from the soaps is the drama. Like we didn’t have enough of that in the house.

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