Many of our children begin school with serious language deficits from which they never recover. It is not because they are intellectually inferior. It is because we (their parents and caretakers) do not actively engage them in rich dialogue or ask open-ended (divergent) questions. We give them directives. ("Come here." "Put that down." "Stop smacking your sister." "Go to bed.") Or they speak with a slang or profanity-laden vocabulary that tends to repeat words that are ambiguous, or words that quickly become obsolete. ("What the ... !" "Get the ... outta here." "Don't ... with me.") And who still says "phat" or "on fleek"? And how many of our children know their meanings?
Educators have known this for a while, but most of them are too busy being politically correct to suggest to their students' caretakers that they have a responsibility to provide children with sound language exemplars. If they want children who speak articulately, they must strive to speak articulately. The purpose of language is to communicate, but it also can become a passport to opportunity, particularly for marginalized populations. Slang can be colorful and fun. Profanity is ... well ... it is what it is, but neither is enough to empower our children, and the latter represents a level of language that is discouraged in Islam.
Don't sentence your American-born child to the arduous task of learning English as a second language. Being able to communicate outside of your immediate circle is a survival skill. Code-switching is a necessary survival skill. Many of us, however, never teach our children the power and responsibility of language.
If you struggle with your own diction and articulation, don't pass that on as a legacy. Try to incorporate the following suggestions into the family routines:
- Study together.
- Do a family "Word of the Day" vocabulary program.
- Have an occasional "Slang Permitted Day" and monitor its use at other times.
- Challenge your children to find more specific words to replace slang.
- Model and promote articulate speech, diction, and enunciation around your children's sensitive ears.
- Listen to great orators together and discuss what made them effective.
And even if you find it hard and think you cannot change, encourage your kids to exceed you. Want more for them.
This article is republished with permission from the author. It was posted as a personal Facebook blog on March 27, 2017.
Candice “Sister Islaah” Abd’al-Rahim reverted to Islam in 1976 and considers herself a student of knowledge. She has deep education credentials which include an M.A. in Teaching, Certificate of Advanced Studies (Post-Masters) in Administration and Supervision, a B.S. in English, and experiences as a principal (in fact, the first hijab public school principal in Maryland!), a curriculum and staff developer, mentor, and classroom teacher of grades pre-K through 12. She is also former adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate School of Education and is currently a doctoral candidate in Islamic Sciences at the International Online University. Islaah’s contributions to the field of education have earned her honors in the Who’s Who of Distinguished JHU Alumni. She is a wife, daughter, mother, and grandmother and is an active member of several Muslim communities in the Baltimore area.