Monday, 8 September 2014

Your kids come in tongues II

I ranted a few years ago about the Lebanese phenomenon (I suspect it has also appeared in other Arab countries) of only speaking English or French to their kids.

Now that I have my own child, this is even more obvious to me. During my summer stay in Lebanon, I was often THE ONLY PERSON SPEAKING ARABIC TO THEIR KID at playgrounds and other venues. I must say I absolutely loved the condescendence that my daughter and I got for it. People felt the need to speak to us slowwwwly and translate all kinds of stuff to Arabic, because, clearly, I must be totally illiterate and my poor little girl is destined to an underprivileged life.
Copyright Kankana LLC

Here are the reasons I think this is terrible:
  • By teaching your kids not to speak Arabic, you are essentially telling them that their culture is inferior to that of the French/British/Americans etc whose language you seem to treasure.
  • By extension, you are also telling them to be racist against themselves and their own people.
  • You may be giving them a false sense of belonging to another culture and guess what, one day they will realize that in fact, they don’t belong there.
  • I often get the impression that foreign languages are associated with social status in Lebanon. First, that’s not really the case because an enormous number of people speak these languages. Second, if you’re craving social status, get a nice car or a monogrammed purse, walk around cigar in hand and don’t forget to display your iPhones and iPads everywhere. Just DON’T make your kids miss out on their mother tongue.
  • You are reducing their future chances in the job market: the Arab world stands today at over 300 million very young consumers, this means the population will increase exponentially by the time your kids hit the job market. Guess what, by not speaking/reading/writing the language like natives, they will be much less competitive.
Copyright: Kankana LLC
  • Some parents think that the kid will get to learn Arabic anyway by living in the Arab world, but when the nanny, grandparents, teachers, other kids and even the man in the grocery store find themselves compelled to display their own linguistic prowess by using foreign languages with the kids, their actual need to understand and speak Arabic will be minimal.
  • Many Lebanese living in Europe or the US insist on their kids attending Arabic school on weekends. These parents understand that multiculturalism enriches a person’s life, not to mention that, with so much immigration taking place globally, a big chunk of the wold population of the future will be bi-cultural. I was born in the US and currently live in Europe and I think it’s crucial to integrate and embrace the culture of the country you live in ( language being a crucial component of that), but that doesn’t mean giving up your own heritage. If anything being aware of this heritage enables you to add richness to your life and to those of the people you interact with.
  • Last but not least, kids who don’t read or speak Arabic (or are weak at it) are missing out on a beautiful language and an amazing literary heritage.

If you do want to familiarize your kids with the Lebanese/Arabic language, here’s a nice app book I came across recently. It’s called Ahlam and you can download it here. The screen shots in this blog post are taken from this app. It has an engaging story (about a child trying to find ways to sleep better), and there’s a Lebanese feel to it that I enjoyed a lot. Although its graphics could be a bit higher quality, my 2 year old likes it and uses it quite a bit.

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