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Learn Punjabi Speaking Panjabi: Making It Happen


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Speaking Panjabi: Making it happen

Sikh Educators Network

<!-- Plugins: AfterDisplayTitle --> <!-- K2 Plugins: K2AfterDisplayTitle --> <!-- Plugins: BeforeDisplayContent --> <!-- K2 Plugins: K2BeforeDisplayContent --> <!-- Item introtext --> A couple of weeks ago I had to do presentation in front a hundred parents. Usually, this doesn't worry me. My skill set in my career is to do presentations in front of a large amount of people. This time I was nervous. Real nervous. I knew the topic. I had done my research. In fact. I had done a similar presentation like this before. There was a difference. I was doing this presentation in Panjabi.

Let me give you a little background about myself. I was born in England. I moved to Canada when I was one. My grandparents-who only spoke Panjabi, parents brothers and I lived together so, my communication at home enlisted me to know a little Panjabi. Outside my home, I was in an environment that I could only communicate in English. Yes, there was confusion with accents; confusion with some words; confusion with a few tenses; but all in all I found a way to sort of fit in both worlds. My parents started to accept a little more English in the home and eventually I was comfortable in being able to communicate to my family in some sort of Panglish.

The only thing was, that there was no Boli curriculum that I could learn the inticricies of Panjabi. I had, or should say have a limited vocabulary. I have learned how to read from the Guru Granth Sahib; even take santhiya classes in the pronounciation of the words. My issues. I never formally learned grammer. So building sentences, using verbs; has been a challenge for me. Also, I might be reading beautifully but, I have no way to make meaning of what I am reading.

This is the moment, I wish my parents were even MORE strict than they were in teaching me Panjabi. This is when I wished that the Boli curriculum was around when I was growing up. None the less, growing up in two languages, gave me incredible advantages. Growing up in Canada, you must take French classes. If you have ever learned french, you will know there are incredible similarities in the language. One is conjugation of verbs. I loved French. I excelled in French. Picking up a third language became easier because I already had grown up in two. I also excelled in Science, in Math, in Geography, and Music. I wondered why? I attribute it to learning Panjabi and English at the same time. I opened my mind to learning and organizing my brain in ways that were open to learning language. Chemistry is a language. Math is a language. Music is a language. My mind was already primed to learn language. So I did. For a long while, this was just a theory in my mind. Now there is research to back this up. The inter-activist approach suggests that there needs to be an environment where there is opportunity to use the language in a meaningful way. I was using Panjabi at home to communicate with my family -useful, and I was speaking in English to interact at school-useful. The research also suggests if you are learning two languages, one supports the learning of the other. So, it was very important to be able to use both languages (especially the mother tongue) if you are trying to learn an additional language when you are acquiring a language.

Back to this presentation. In my introduction, I offered an apology for my attempt at speaking Panjabi. The parents were appreciative of the fact that I was trying my utmost. And they did the most wonderful thing. They listened. They honored me by accepting my mistakes. They repeated my instructions for an activity back to me when my Panjabi was possibly being a barrier to their understanding. All in all, they modelled an ideal classroom for language aquistition. They gave me confidence. They did not overly criticize me for my mistakes... or try too much to correct them. They paraphrased my thoughts. They gave me support and understood me. All these things they did, are key to a classroom learning an additional language. I left that presentation thinking, yes, I can speak Panjabi. I have more confidence to attempt to speak Panjabi. I thank that audience for what they did for me.

It makes me think about our school practices in teaching Panjabi to our kids. What is most important for learning Panjabi? Confidence building, safety in the classroom -so students can take risks. Support. What is not needed in the learning of Panjabi? Constantly correcting speech in front of peers, not providing an encouraging environment, and not letting students speak English to learn Panjabi. What do we want from family? We already know that learning Panjabi is so incredibly important for the future of Sikhi. We also need our children to see the relevance of Panjabi in their interactions. Perhaps, as a family pick a day or two at home, where you only speak Panjabi. Maybe at dinner, the rule is to speak Panjabi. It is a joint effort from the schools and parents.

To conclude, my nervousness subsided with the support that I received the support from when I was presenting. I feel I can do a Panjabi presentation anywhere now. That is powerful for me. My question is for the collective... What are we going to do, so our children feel the same?

Many Roots Many Voices
Adding English, by Elizabeth Coelho


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