4 Frustrations Of Learning Your Mother Tongue In Adulthood

4 Frustrations Of Learning Your Mother Tongue In Adulthood

Learning your mother tongue in adulthood is frightening and a self-evaluation in a way.


All I can say is: it's about time. I'm 19 years old and my parents never taught me my mother tongue. Instead, they did that thing all immigrant parents do... speaking it when they don't want you to understand. My parents instead speak a combination of other languages in the house, mostly English. While I've resented them a bit for not speaking the language more when I was a child, I realized that at this point I need to teach myself. The truth is, I've made the decision several times to try to learn, but it's hard to commit to something that never truly has a deadline.

Summer is just around the corner, and I'm tired of making excuses. So I've decided to learn the language my ancestors spoke: Malayalam. It is one of the few Indian languages not derived from Sanskrit, and comes from the southern state of Kerala in India (aka where I'm from). Though I embarked on this adventure, it does come with a few not-so-fun side-effects.

Though the language Malayalam comes with its own difficulties, there are frustrations of learning any language in your adulthood.

1. Your family often and regularly teases you

Though your intentions are genuine and praiseworthy, your family will use the fact that you're an adult to point out all of your mistakes. After all, to them, you could have just learned it as a kid, but didn't. They don't understand how difficult it was growing up in a foreign country and having parents who only spoke English around you. If you have supportive family members, then you should appreciate the lack of judgment so many people feel when trying to learn about their culture. But this frustration is also partially in the mind. When learning any language, it becomes difficult to find courage when you're not confident. It's all about embracing the mistakes and not caring about what anyone else thinks because this is your journey.

2. Finding the courage to speak it, because you don't feel you've earned the right to do so

Finding the courage to speak any arbitrary language is difficult as it is, but when learning the language you should have learned as a kid you feel 10 times more fearful. This fear comes from guilt, from not having been enough "Indian," "Pakistani," "Korean," "Latina," and so on. The trauma of being singled out by your community for years still lingers.

3. People asking you to converse right away

This is one that gets my anxiety level through the roof. When I tell my parents I want to learn Malayalam, they ask me the next day "Speak in Malayalam. Why are you speaking in English?" The misconception is that all of a sudden I'm going to have the magical ability to converse in a language when language learning takes time and patience just like any skill.

4. Feeling like you've missed out on an entire childhood connecting with this culture

When you finally do start getting immersed in your mother tongue, and find yourself even enjoying it, you realize that so many years of exclusion and confusion could have been prevented if you had just taken the leap earlier. You could have immersed yourself further into your culture just a bit more if you had tried harder. But the truth is, the time is now so just appreciate your amazing decision to start learning now.

If you can relate, then I want you to know that you're not alone. Do not ever give up your mother tongue, because as the world gets more globalized, English is becoming more and more common. In order to maintain lesser-known languages, they need to be passed onto future generations. A huge factor in me learning Malayalam is this: I want to be able to speak it fluently to my children so they can speak it to theirs. No fear, frustration, or failure is going to stop me now.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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