Growing up in Canada, our children are exposed to many cultures, which will raise them to be open-minded and diverse people. On the other hand, so much diversity may cause children to lack a sense of belonging or identity. According to research, learning the native language during the early years of childhood allows children to build a strong identity, a sense of belonging and develop a stronger bond with their education. Cultural awareness and tradition play important roles in helping children develop a positive sense of identity and self worth. By celebrating your child’s cultural identity you are giving them the opportunity to be part of a varied and enriched life. Furthermore, having them find pride in their own cultural differences will raise them to be respectful of the differences of others.
Sending children to an Armenian heritage school offers the benefit of teaching them their native language and to build a connection to their culture. Many children lack interest in their education because they are missing some degree of personal connection to the things they are learning. Within the Armenian school, children can find connections to their learning and their peers. This connection can help students develop a greater appreciation for their culture and education, and foster a positive relationship with the education.
To all Armenians, speaking our mother tongue means connecting to our ancestors, keeping their culture and stories alive; it acts as a reminder of their hardships and the sacrifices they endured to give us the opportunity to do so. We owe it to them. Yet, to our youth, connecting to their culture may mean being “set apart” from others, and therefore they may chose to abandon their cultural differences in order to “fit in”. Children often lose their first language when they are introduced to a second, more common language when starting school. “The loss of the first or native language is a serious problem for bilingual children. First language loss is caused by several factors, including the eagerness to assimilate to the dominant culture and social pressure. It is crucial for children to receive enough comprehensible input in the first language to maintain and further develop it, since children will have more exposure to English outside of home than to their first or heritage language” (Cummins, n.d.).
By sending our Armenian youth to Armenian schools we can rule out many of the factors that may cause our children to regress from their native tongue. They will also learn to foster diversity and the value of culture to our society. Furthermore, speaking to them in your native language will make them feel more connected. It builds a sense of “home”. You can travel anywhere in the world, but when you hear Armenian, you feel like you are home.
According to A.G.B.U. Europe, as a diaspora language, the Armenian language experiences very specific challenges. Teaching the language and developing educational material often requires methods and an approach that differ from the teaching of more widespread or less dispersed languages. Like in Europe, the challenges encountered by the Armenian language in Canada results from its minority status, from the scattering of the diaspora, and from lack of recognition. “Language learning choices at any age are based on the perceived prestige and practical benefits provided by different languages, as well as by their “heritage” and cultural value.” So what are the practical benefits of learning Armenian today?
On a cognitive level, research shows that bilingualism and multilingualism play a large role in developing the area of the brain that monitors and controls multi-tasking, concentration and the ability to process several different thoughts at once. According to Kim Cummins (Ph.D. University of Toronto), the level of development of a child’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development. Children who are exposed to stories and discussions at home, in a way that develops their mother tongue vocabulary and concepts, come to school well-prepared to learn the school language and succeed educationally. Furthermore, Mother tongue promotion in schools helps develop children’s abilities in the majority language. Research finds that bilingual children perform better in school when the school effectively teaches and develops literacy in the mother tongue. Therefore, contrary to the belief that spending time on the teaching of the mother tongue will take away from the common language, spending instructional time on a minority language in the school does not hurt children’s academic development in other languages.
Growing up in Quebec children have the benefit of learning two languages in school, and therefore many of our generation believe that adding or perfecting a third language is unimportant or insignificant. However, speaking your cultural language has the various benefits of building identity, relating to your culture, creating sense of belonging and developing meta-cognitive skills. Moreover, learning and teaching our native language allows us to keep our culture alive. Passing it down to our children allows us to preserve a language that has survived through the efforts of communities alike all over the world, and survived because of the determination and passion of those who have brought us here. Speaking Armenian not only allows us to connect to one another, but also allows us to understand and appreciate the history of our ancestors. It cultivates an appreciation and understanding that is beyond beneficial for children.
At the age of 5, my son has only discovered recently that he is just half Armenian. His sense of belonging to the Armenian community roots from the beginning of his childcare, where he attended an Armenian daycare, and now continues his Education at the Alex Manoogian School, where he speaks Armenian, French and English. He will eventually learn to embrace his Scottish and Swedish roots as well, but somehow I am not worried about that. According to the Armenian Community Council of the United Kingdom (2015), Western Armenian is among the world’s thousands of endangered languages, which means it is predicted to die in the next 100 years. “At this moment many Armenian children are not being taught Armenian, and parents do no realize that soon it will not be there to be revived” (Dr. Jebejian, 2015). My three-year old daughter speaks Armenian to her non-Armenian speaking father, and sings the Armenian national anthem when she sees the Canadian flag. She has learned to identify with Armenia because of her sense of belonging to her daycare, where she is surrounded by the traditions, the songs, poems and the folktales that I grew up with. With that, I am sure that wherever they may go or whatever paths they may take in life, they can always find a small group of Armenians, who will make them feel at home.
Cummins, J. Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why is it important for education? Retrieved from: http://www.lavplu.eu/central/bibliografie/cummins_eng.pdf
Jebejian, Dr. A., (2015) Western Armenian is Nearing Extinction. Armenian community council of the United Kingdom. Retrieved from: http://www.accc.org.uk/western-armenian-is-nearing-extinction/
Why it is Important for Children to Learn and Maintaing their First Language. Retrieved from: https://languagekids.com/why-it-is-important-for-children-to-learn-and-maintain-their-first-or-native-language/