As an Armenian School instructor over the past 40 years at my church, I’ve come to the sobering realization that our language is beginning to slowly dissipate.
Sad to admit, today’s students don’t appear to gravitate toward the mother tongue. They would prefer to see their class time devoted to more “interesting” subjects like Hai Tahd, current events, genocide education, and the country itself.
It never used to be this way. Back 40 years ago, I had a standardized curriculum that was underscored by Armenian. Students were taught the alphabet, writing, reading, and conversational skills. They followed their text, prepared their assignments diligently, and enjoyed playing games that incorporated the language.
Every once in a while now, I’ll pick up the grammar and attempt to squeeze in a language session. It’s like pulling teeth. One of my better students kept glancing at the clock and asked, “Are we almost done?”
Had this been a lesson on genocide recognition or the most recent climb atop Mount Ararat, they would have been enamored. If I had covered the history of our revolutionaries and assimilation, they would have availed themselves.
A class on prominent Armenians in film and athletics went over big. So did another on rural life in Armenia and Karabagh. But when it comes to the language itself, they appear bored out of their skin.
Perhaps it’s me. No doubt, it’s the teacher who lays out the ground rules and makes a class stimulating. What worked 40 years ago, surely isn’t working today. Kids change. Habits become altered. If parents don’t introduce the language on the home front, it won’t work in church, especially with the minimal class time you have in between religious education, Badarak, and other diversions.
I remember when I was their age. Having a grandmother living with us was like having a built-in educator. Armenian was a household language and we were expected to utilize it. Even when we became “Americanized,” the language remained foremost.
Little Armenian is spoken in our churches. Even our sermons are delivered in English and given a brief translation. When the Der Hayr is approached by the Armenian-speaking of our parish, it’s usually in English.
Like the French I learned in high school. Use it or lose it. I’ve lost it because I didn’t perpetuate it. The same could be said for our native tongue.
History reminds us that Poland, Hungary, and Romania once held thriving Armenian communities. But once the language dissolved, so did the heritage.
Will the same dilemma face America?
Had you been aboard the ACAA Hertage Cruise, you would have seen the language getting a workout. True, most of the fluent ones were immigrants. Armenian is their primary language and their children attend ethnic schools in all probability. They are totally immersed in the culture.
One or two even remained indignant when English was overused.
I wouldn’t say a non-Armenian speaking passenger was totally out of luck on this cruise. But let’s say they were left nebulous. The lectures were delivered in both languages. Same thing with the announcements. Armenian language classes were being offered on board with few takers.
Of the 1,250 Armenians on the cruise ship, I would say at least half were American born. But how long can they sustain the language?
Much as I had the urge to speak English when I visited Armenia with other Americans, I found myself better off thinking otherwise.
My traveling companion insisted we speak Armenian when we were outdoors—and we kept to that regimen. When we visited an Armenian home, there was no question.
For several years now, I’ve tried introducing Armenian language classes to our community college. No takers. I’ve advertised the program, got my church to publicize it, passed the word throughout the community, and still no success.
It went over twice in the 1990’s. The first time, I had a class of 10 and all but 3 were odars. The second session was about the same ratio. It tells me that odars are more interested in learning our language than Armenians.
It does my heart good to see a child speaking Armenian. I know at least three families who’ve exercised the native language in their homes for years—and continue to do so today. Their children are fluent and passed the skills onto their offspring.
Even more impressive is to see an American-born scholar so proficient in Armenian that they can deliver a flawless lecture without hesitation.
I’d like some input from readers. How would you handle this situation? Pass along some solutions on how we might save our language from extinction in this country.