Language


My son is now 9 years old, and approaching his 10th. He is in Grade 4. When I was at his age, I was in Grade 4 too. I felt it was a tough year as most subjects changed drastically from simply one-directional instruction (teacher to students) to group discussion (plus team work) and active involvement of pupils in all subjects. But that is not what I want to say here.
At 9 years old, it never occurred to me that I would leave my hometown (to go abroad is of lowest importance as to go to heaven). It is a small town; maybe one of the smallest towns in my province. It is in Java Island (densely populated island in Indonesia due to fertile soils, agricultural products, educational institutions, industry – most of all, the capital), but still … the sphere of influence from larger cities was just a minute tremor in the night: simply ignored. I love living in my hometown. No mobile phones or gadgets, no games, 1-hour TV daily. The meaning of a “day” is just school, friends (with their unique or occasionally erratic characters), playing outdoors (river, hills, mountains, beaches), parents (not sure why I put it on the last). Living in the vicinity of two 3000-m mountains with temperature range of 15-24 °C, and with a polarized vibrancy within 3 x 3 km² (2700 people), who would leave this town. Everyone recognized everyone (mostly faces, but not names – everyone is Pak, Bu, Mas, Mbak – Mr, Mrs, Bro, Sist). It is simple yet very mundane at times. Language spoken was only three: Indonesian, Java, Madura. English was just a popularized by the school and small cinema (that is now in paradise – a.k.a dead!). No one spoke in English; a few foreigners from Europe, America, Australia dropped by (and by then I realized that God really created various kinds of human – not only in the movie).
At 9 years old, it never occurred to me why I would leave my hometown. But now I realize that the reason is simple: because of the hometown itself. It would not be called “home” if you never go. You should go. Go, see the rest of the world, and come back someday. It is two directions: you call it home, and home accepts you (wherever you may be).
Unlike me, my son doesn’t have a hometown. His home is the house we rent. It is the consequence of family-traveler like us. It could be a popular culture we (the baby-boomers, 90s, millenials) follow: as popular as a trailing spouse, religion-based country (as an antithesis of the capitalist one), nuclear family, Hermes handbags, or Donald Trump. But, one thing remains: native language. It is his only home. It is the only thing that connects him to my hometown. Talking in native language to him is recently getting uneasy due to inevitable multicultural KAUST that ‘forces’ him to speak English. That is why we speak Indonesian at home. Also, luckily, Indonesians living in KAUST have makan-makan culture (it is literally ‘eating together’) that instills unconsciously native language into our children. As a family-traveler, no choice, the children needs the meaning of home, and it is through the native language. Not to an extent that we should follow Søren Kierkegaard (since we are not philosophers who should advocate the importance of language): just talk in the native language as much as you can with your children.
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