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Language and Culture: Preserving a culture begins at home
Thinley Y Chadotsang
Migyul Magazine, Vol.2, May 2004

Charity begins at home, as the famous saying goes, applies to speaking one’s mother tongue as well. In this age where speaking in English is emphasized in almost all the countries in the world, how does one keep one’s mother tongue alive and away from extinction? The answer is by putting it to practice, by speaking it!

Being a Tibetan, born in India, and immigrated to New York at the age of fourteen, it wasn’t hard for me to speak in Tibetan, as opposed to most of the kids who’ve either been brought here at a very early age or who are born here. I am not saying that there are not any Tibetan kids and kids in the Himalayan region in India itself who are not able to speak in their mother tongue because there are. I personally have a few Tibetan friends who are not able to speak the language, but they are able to understand it when spoken to. It is difficult to pin point who is to blame for this, but it is reasonable to deduce that the parents, the kid himself/herself and the environment the kid lives in plays a very big role in it. Studying in a Catholic school in Darjeeling, it wasn’t all that easy to be able to speak and read and write in Tibetan, even though I did take Tibetan as my second language since English was required to be the first. But it was due to the influence mainly from home, from my Tibetan teacher and friends, and the small-knit Tibetan community in Darjeeling that helped me in remembering my Tibetan.

"Being a Tibetan, it would be very awkward for me if I were not able to speak to another Tibetan in Tibetan. And yes, I don’t think I would be the only one feeling this way, but there are also a few Tibetans that I do know who feel this way- some have decided to act on it, while some have not. I am proud of those who have and I still respect the ones who have not, as long as they do not regret it themselves. But it is never late and there’s still time. And to all the kids of the Himalayan region, never forget your roots and take pride in your heritage and — yes — learn and remember to speak in your mother tongue!

Thinley Y Chadotsang

My dad, to this day, always tells us (my siblings and I) to speak in Tibetan at home and he has never spoken in any other language and has not tried to speak in any other language at home other than Tibetan, for our cause. I am deeply thankful to him for that! One problem that I see in today’s Tibetan kids and the kids from the Himalayan region (not all of them) is that once they come to the U.S. or any other country, they tend to forget their mother tongue. In the U.S. and in New York to be specific, they speak in English most of the time and end up forgetting how to speak in Tibetan, Nepali, etc. and having only an understanding of it. The same goes for kids that are born in the U.S. I don’t blame them for it, but it is their duty or obligation, along with their parents, to try and speak their mother tongue at home and with friends, relatives, etc.

If the kids of my generation and the much younger generation do not make an effort to continue speaking in their mother tongue, in my case, in Tibetan, then what is going to happen to Tibet and the Tibetan language? If there is no more Tibetans left that speak or read and write in Tibetan, then what is going to happen to the future of Tibet? There will not be any future for Tibet!

Yes — for every problem there is always a solution; it only depends on whether you find the right solution. The solution to keeping the Tibetan language alive in every Tibetan is to insist on speaking it. In New York itself, as covered in the first issue of Migyul, there is the Sunday school that helps Tibetan kids who are interested in learning how to speak, read and write in Tibetan. Another easier solution is for elders to speak and teach their kids how to read and write in Tibetan at home, since every good deed begins at home.

Thinley Y Chadotsang