Promoting Multilingualism in the Punjabi Community

A few weeks ago I attended the Sikh Education Conference hosted by theSikh Research Institute that brought together educators from across North America. One of the presentations focused on the importance of language education. The presenter made it quite clear teaching young children multiple languages does not confuse them or hinder their development. In fact, research has shown that bilingualism and multilingualism is advantageous in several aspects. Exposure to two or more languages increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of the mind in young children.

According to neurobiologists, the human brain is hardwired to learn languages as an infant and toddler. Any language learned during this period is stored, literally, in a different part of the brain than language acquired later in life, and in the right environment young children can learn up to four languages without significant slowdown. [link]

It seems, however, than in immigrant communities there is often hesitation around raising children in multilingual homes. The fear is that children will not learn English fast enough which will pose an obstacle to their assimilation into American society. It happens in our own community young Punjabi children not being able to communicate with their older Punjabi grandparents. There is a language gap and if we consider the importance of oral tradition in our history you can just imagine how much information is not being communicated and in fact being lost between generations.

The pattern seems to be that children are introduced to Punjabi with a few words thrown into their vocabulary here and there. Haanji. Paani. Parantha (okay, maybe thats just my family). However, once English is introduced it often takes precedence and Punjabi, whether consciously or not, becomes the less important language. When parents notice this communication gap – they enroll their children in Gurmat or Punjabi school – often times at an age when the child has been exposed to only English for several years.

I really believe that as a community we should promote multilingualism (and not because it’s also #78 on a certain entertainingblog I peruse). Not only does scientific data suggest that raising children with multiple languages is beneficial to their overall development, but also because I believe it is important for generations to communicate effectively with each other. And when children are speaking Punjabi to their elders to only hear a response in English, that is a little disheartening too. We have to learn to communicate with each other and to do so by embracing the languages we speak. Don’t get me wrong – i don’t think English and Punjabi are the only languages our children should be learning. We do live in a global worldafter all!


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5 Responses to “Promoting Multilingualism in the Punjabi Community”

  1. Roger Mangat says:

    A nice & timely article,the more languages a child can learn,more comfortable he or she can be.I will go one step further and urge the parents & grandparents to shed their inhibitions & learn the language spoken or written by their offsprings.Among the languages the seniors can learn are different languages of india,or of the subcontinent or even the world.

  2. Roger Mangat says:

    A nice & timely article,the more languages a child can learn,more comfortable he or she can be.I will go one step further and urge the parents & grandparents to shed their inhibitions & learn the language spoken or written by their offsprings.Among the languages the seniors can learn are different languages of india,or of the subcontinent or even the world.

  3. Harinder says:

    I suggest among multiple languages to learn; Besides the cultural languages

  4. Harinder says:

    I suggest among multiple languages to learn; Besides the cultural languages

  5. kawalpreet176 says:

    Multi culture is Good thing . I Support It !
    http://www.gurmatsagar.in

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