FAIRFIELD — Hargurhjit Singh Jassar didn’t grow up with a primary language – he grew up with two.
Jassar’s parents primarily spoke Punjabi at home so he did, too. But he grew up in Fairfield so he primarily spoke English outside his home.
He didn’t learn one before the other. Instead he grew up learning both languages simultaneously and speaking both.
The Punjabi-American Cultural Association encourages people like Jassar to learn and speak both languages.
Punjabi originates from the historic Punjab region of northwestern India and northeastern and central Pakistan. It is the 10th most widely spoken language in the world, according to Wikipedia. For children whose parents or relatives come from the region, it’s useful to know the language.
Many of the students also attend the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Fairfield where they read Sikh script written in Punjabi.
The association has been offering Punjabi classes during Sunday school in Fairfield to children and adults of all faiths for about 10 years.
Principal Charan Singh and Punjabi class organizer Parminder Singh Bedi said for most of the students Sunday school offers the only opportunity to learn Punjabi.
About 60 students, mostly children, attend the one-hour Punjabi class on Sundays. They pack into a small room of what used to be a home across from the temple.
The students are divided into three levels, from beginning to advanced. Beginning students learn to read the 35 letters of the Punjabi alphabet, or Penti. Once they’ve reached the advanced level they can read, speak and write in Gurmukhi script.
Jassar completed all three levels and now himself teaches students in Punjabi class how to form sentences, learn their vowels – which are frequent in Punjabi, he said – and learn the alphabet.
Language isn’t the only thing taught in Punjabi class, Singh and Bedi said. The instructors also teach students about Sikh history, culture and life lessons.
“This is a very good opportunity,” Bedi said. “We want all our kids to be taught good things.”
To learn more about Punjabi classes, visit www.pacassociation.org.
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