We had a discussion in my Tongan Language class today that I felt was rather interesting. The topic was how quickly our language can be lost growing up in a country other than the one your parents were born in; for me it’s being born and raised in the U.S. and my parents who were born in friendly island kingdom of Tonga.
I wish that my parents spoke to us in Tongan more, during our upbringing. Maybe it was because they moved here and struggled with school, work and life in general trying to learn English. For them, teaching us English would only benefit us, as it is the language here. Then again, we would learn English anyways from school and our friends, why not teach your kids your native language in the home, and raise them bilingual? Quickly I had to take the blame off parents because in my household, my older brother and sister speak and comprehend Tongan very well. We were raised in the same home, and I think it was the effort that they put into understanding and learning the language outside of the home that made the difference. Whenever we would visit our grandparents they would try to speak Tongan to them whereas I could understand my grandparents well, I just chose to respond to them in English, afraid of making mistakes in Tongan. Looking back, who better to practice and learn Tongan from than your own family.
After continued conversation, my Tongan Language professor asks me “Knowing what you know, what are you doing in your own household to teach your kids Tongan?” I had no good answer for him. Again, I’m embarrassed that I don’t know proper sentence structure or may be unfamiliar with certain names of verbs or nouns. I do teach them nouns and verbs that I do know. I speak a combination of English and Tongan to them (I affectionately call Tonglish) and they have done well with so far. I should, however, make more of an effort to speak more to my kids in Tongan. Speaking it in the house will help improve my Tongan as well as my kids. Lesson of the day, teach your kids what you know of your language. The ability to speak multiple languages, regardless of which language, can only help their ever growing brains.