There are roughly seven billion people on this planet, seven continents, and 195 countries in the world.
Each person that inhabits this planet comes with their own set of emotions, needs, desires, and beliefs, which they express through various types of communication: verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual. Despite the importance of all forms of communication, verbal communication dominates our lives the most.
Our ability to properly articulate and express our thoughts with words is one of the many gifts we enjoy and cherish. Although the number is always shifting and developing, according to Ethnologue, a research centre for language intelligence, there are 7,139 languages that are spoken today.
A lot more than you originally thought, right? Well, only 23 languages are spoken by more than half the population of the planet while a chunk of the total is actually endangered.
Languages, developed through culture and the evolving communities, can hold much history among those who speak a specific tongue. And for this reason, in the year 2000, UNESCO declared International Mother Language Day to not only preserve but also protect all languages around the world and raise awareness.
Bangladeshi students have learned about all the blood and the acts of patriotism demonstrated by students and activists until Bangla was finally declared the official language of East Pakistan, now fondly known and loved as Bangladesh, in the year 1956.
With an interesting combination of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and the complicated dynamics in the Indian subcontinent, the unfortunate reality is that despite Bangla's rich history, heritage, and unique acts of patriotism, Bangla seems to be slowly losing its value and significance on the very land its martyrs gave their blood for.
A dose of reality
Growing up, my family moved around a lot but my parents made sure I was raised in Bangladesh long enough to absorb the culture so that my values aligned with theirs. It was their way of giving me a better life without me losing touch with my roots. Best of both worlds, I suppose.
In the West, I found myself surrounded by a large diverse community. I learned their ways of life, their cultures and even took part in cultural celebrations from time to time. It really opened my eyes with regard to how big the world really was and how many uniquely beautiful cultures there were to explore and learn from. Their clothing, the languages, the mannerisms, and etiquette, it was all so different yet so special.
My time abroad only made me fall in love with my culture even more after I saw how everyone else embraced their customs like a badge of honour in a foreign land. However, since returning back to Bangladesh, I've realised this has been the wake-up call I never knew I needed.
Just last month, while I was attending a wedding, a child, no older than seven years of age, initiated a conversation with me. We talked about how much she missed her friends from school, how she was coping with classes throughout the pandemic, and then I asked about her favourite subject.
"I love English. It's my favourite. I'm the best in my class," she replied. Jokingly, I asked, "What about Bangla. I'm sure you are great at that as well?"
Absolutely flabbergasted, she just stared at me with the most perplexing of expressions. She was clearly taken aback by the question. With almost a look of disgust on her face, she told me that she did not even know how to read in Bangla, let alone write a complete sentence.
And when I asked her why she looked as though I had asked her something offensive, she explained to me that no one thought it was "cool" to be good at Bangla. Her peers, and even her parents, spoke in English at home. Therefore, she did not understand why she would need to ever put in the effort to learn the language properly.
Oblivious to the gravity of her words, the little girl then went off to have dinner with her family while I was left absolutely astonished. I stood there and contemplated the possibility of younger generations genuinely thinking that their language is simply not "cool" enough to learn about.
The ugly truth is that this type of thinking does not only apply to the little girl I met at the wedding. There are many more like her, who are raised in Bangladesh, live here, and went to school here, who share the same ideology.
Even when looking into the lives of people who are of my age, I notice that we rarely ever write to each other using the Bangla alphabet. As a student pursuing her undergraduate degree, I have even observed my friends conversing in the English language at home with their families and more often than not, I see people being made fun of for not knowing the proper grammar for English, and being trolled on the internet for speaking in a Bangladeshi accent.
If Bangladeshis are made fun of for speaking with a Bangla accent, then what accent are we meant to speak in if not our own?
Reality check, English is not our first language. Knowing two languages is an impressive feat in itself. If anything, we should be embarrassed for not knowing how to write, speak and read in our own mother language. We are living in modern times where we preach acceptance and understanding, yet in this scenario, hypocrisy shines brightest.
The importance of knowing the English language is undeniable. Whether it's in a professional setting, an opportunity to study abroad, or meeting with a foreign investor, in most cases knowing English will come in handy. Globalisation has intertwined the world in such a way that it is recommended to learn languages more than just your own. However, that doesn't mean that one must forsake their own identity and succumb to Eurocentric standards.
Although an individual has the right to be proud of speaking multiple languages, we should also cultivate and invest our time and energy into our own culture and language to ensure that we have preserved it for future generations.