Sansaar: Raising bilingual children

Reshma Datta
Young Jains Magazine
1 October 2008

Sansaar is a charity that is dedicated to the learning of Gujarati through fun and music specifically for Non-Indian resident children. We are well known for our professional quality pantomimes and Navratri events which include nursery rhymes with actions. Over the years these have become highly popular where tickets are sold out weeks in advance. The pantomimes and the songs can be relived in our homes with the audio visual products that are designed to enhance the learning of Gujarati with fun and music.

You may ask ‘’There are plenty of English pantomimes and nursery rhymes, why do we need Gujarati ones?’’ Those of us that understand Gujarati will agree that there is certain sweetness to our mother tongue. In fact, there are certain expressions that can only be expressed in Gujarati and there is no literal translation for them. Research has shown that the letters and sounds present in the Gujarati alphabet have been pre-historically designed to exercise ALL the muscles in our mouth and jaw. The English language does not provide that luxury. There are at least three sounds/letters that do not even exist in the English language. Can you guess what they are? Research has also shown that the learning of more than one language can enhance children’s academic abilities. We encourage our children to learn other European languages, let’s make a little effort with our own language.

All the science aside, what happens when our children get together with their Grandparents (for those of us that are lucky enough to have them nearby)? One of the most important relationships for growing children is with their grandparents. There is a love only they can share. How can this connection be fulfilled if they don’t share the same mother tongue? When two people can speak the same language fluently, their relationship is strengthened. It is very disheartening when we see today’s little ones not being quite comfortable talking with their own grandparents due to the language barrier.

We send our children to learn musical instruments, self defence and various sports classes, but we forget that we are fortunate enough to be a part of something so wonderful – our culture. Send them to Gujarati classes, bring them along to the Sansaar shows, get your hands on to the wonderful CD’s and DVD’s and they will learn to speak Gujarati easily, whilst having fun. Many children also attend dance classes nowadays. Do they understand the lyrics of the songs used in these? Many don’t. Like any music, a deeper understanding of it can give you a deeper a joy from it. It will change their dancing ‘from memory’ to ‘from their hearts’.

India is a country with a deep and a vast heritage. To experience the depth of this culture many of us go on fascinating trips to India. As well as the wonderful architecture and the mesmerising culture, there are many aspects of Indian people that can leave our hearts smiling. Their hospitality - their compulsive ability to treat every guest as a VIP is commendable. Their willingness to give love without any expectation, their generosity, kindness, sense of humour are all values we would benefit from bringing into our own lives. Some of you may have seen a lesser side of India and its people. In my experience the truth is if you go there and integrate with them, you will see these values expressed abundantly. A major contributor to ‘integrating with them’, is speaking and understanding our language. How can we possibly absorb much of these strengths if we do not speak the language? Do we want our children of tomorrow to miss out on this aspect of our heritage?

If the answer is ‘no’, then Sansaar is what you need in your house! Sansaar provides a lead into Gujarati with an unusual energy that flows naturally and uncontrollably, for kids and adults alike. The music and lyrics are compelling. Once you hear them, you will want to hear them again and again. Once you go to a show, you will not want to miss the next one! We can give our children an opportunity to learn the language and hence go on to understand our heritage and grow up taking pride in it.