Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 10 May 2024

My Mother’s Tongues: A Weaving of Languages by Uma Menon, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

It’s one of the great regrets of my life that I’ve never really had any facility for learning languages. I think that speaking English probably makes us very lazy about multilingualism because the language of our birth has become such a lingua franca. Having done some work with European colleagues in the past, also makes me think that being an island with no immediate land borders has meant we rarely feel the need to speak the language of our immediate neighbours.

I’ve also been a university lecturer in the past and found myself amazed at the way students, who were fluent in English and one or more of the so-called ‘community’ languages that their parents and wider family would speak at home, rarely seemed to value the amazing skill they had in being able to switch, effortlessly, between their different tongues. 

So, it was a real treat to read Uma Menon’s My Mother’s Tongues: A Weaving of Languages which celebrates the richness of being able to speak different languages – and appreciate the cultures from which they originate. A young girl is delighted by the way her mother can switch easily between English and Malayalam – at home with her grandmother and when they are out at the shops.

The girl is amazed at the way her mother speaks languages seamlessly – as if the different tongues are woven together like brightly coloured cloth. The little girl too can speak two languages - but it didn’t come easily. When she moved from her home in India to America with her mom and dad, she had to learn English and she mostly gets to speak Malayalam when they go back to Kerala on visits:

“My family reminds me that each language is like a muscle. It needs exercise and practice to grow strong. If I stop using a language, I might forget it and that tongue might grow weak.”

The more languages we learn the better. The little girl’s aunt has four tongues and others in her family can also speak Tamil, Gujarati or French – and when she sits in the airport waiting to travel to India to visit her family she hears even more tongues being spoken. She’s fired with a mission:

“I want to learn dozens of languages so that, one day, I can speak with people who live in every part of the world.

Having a tapestry of tongues will be my superpower.”

Published by Walker Books, you will be able to get a copy from your local independent bookshop – who will be happy to order the book for you if they don’t have copies on the shelf.

Terry Potter

May 2024