Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Raising a bilingual kid

One of my managers never forgets to narrate this joke on every office lunches we go on:
"What do you call a person who knows multiple languages: multilingual
What do you call a person who knows 2 languages: bilingual
And what do you call a person who knows only language: American"

And given his seniority, all my colleagues, including me, are forced to fake a laughter every time.

But this post is not about an American or not, however it does have to do with the number of languages.
Before Aayush came along, the only kid I remember seeing grow up outside India was my brother in law's son. Born in India, he was there for about 2 years, where he was pretty close to his grandparents on both sides.
Then, they all moved to Canada, and slowly the kid, adapted to the new country, environment and most importantly language.
Pretty soon, the language he would interact would be English. In such a scenario, I clearly sensed the uncomfortable feeling and not so close interaction between him and his grandparents.

So, when Aayush came along, one thing I was determined to do was to make sure that he knows his language, or his "mother-father-dada-dadi-nana-nani-mama-mausi-bua" tongue.
Being the youngest kid on both sides, everybody wanted to hear him chatter and his innocent talks, and distance being already a barrier, I did not want language to be an additional barrier.

So I started interacting with him in as much as Hindi as possible at home.
Well, guess what, my only problem was that we did not have many Indian families in our neighborhood and the daycare-school he goes to had all-white population.

So I ran into situations like:
Aayush (to Andrew, on seeing his new car): mujhe bhi chalani hai yeh car !!
And Andrew looking at him questioningly as to what is he saying.

Aayush (to his teacher, in the class): mere ko su su jana hai.
Obviously, teacher had no idea what he wanted and the result was a set of wet pants and very upset Aayush.

So, for a moment, I thought (and a lot of people around me also gave me this suggestion) that I should forget all this obsession about teaching him Hindi and just follow the rule "When is Rome, do as Romans do"
So, if you are in US, just let him speak Hindi.
But, as my husband says about me, if I am not convinced about something, I may act as if I am ready to do it but I just would not give it my 100% and make it work.
Hence, my obsession with Hindi was not over yet.

So, one day when I was picking up Aayush from his daycare, I had a little talk with one of his teachers and she said some thing, which just struck me. She said: "Parul, at this age, kids are like sponges. They will absorb so much that you won't believe yourself. you just have to give it some time"
And time and strategy is what I decided to give myself.
So, I picked 10-15 of the most frequently used words by Aayush and in my everyday life, whenever Aayush used that word, I took that opportunity to explain him the English as well as Hindi version of the word. And also that at home, he could use any of them, but at school, he should prefer the English ones.
So, I started with common words like milk, water, food, sleep, play, home, hot, cold.
And slowly,as he started talking more, I increased this list to include phrases and sentences.

And then our India trip happened. And that helped him so much. he heard everyone he met speaking hindi. He played all the games his mom and dad played as kids, made so many new friends in the neighborhood and on the streets, chased dogs and cows in the streets(and yes, I loved him doing it :-)
And it made him so much more fluent in Hindi.
By the time we came back here, at some time, I was starting to have concerns that now I'll have to enroll him in English speaking course, at other times, I worried myself thinking I was confusing my little kid too much in all this language

But, slowly, as his teacher had already told me so, it all started getting better. Aayush started realising the difference between words from 2 different languages and which ones to use where.

Now, I am proud to say that he is at a stage where he enjoys "A se anaar Aa se aam"
as much as "A for apple, B for Ball"

Both of these are his favorite poems:

Machli jal ki raani hai 
Jeevan uska paani hai
haath lagao darr jayegi
bahar nikalo marr jayegi

I am a little teapot, short and stout
Here's my handle and here's my spout
When I get all heated up, hear me shout
Tip me over and pour me out

Obviously, this journey of mine has had its moments too, most of them really funny.
Like the time, when he saw a girl dressed in tank top and a short skirt, like this, his first comment was:

"Mummy, yeh aunty to saare kapde hi pehnna bhool gayee !!"
(Mummy, I think this women forgot to wear all her clothes)

Now, thank god that comment as in Hindi, so the clothes forgetting babe" didn't quite get my baby had just said !!

Or the time, when he saw this women on one of the workout programs on TV,

He yelled: "Oh chori !! Gir jayegi !!" (O Girl, you'll fall)

Or the time when he tried to teach me how to say an English word here

But in the end, it has all been worth it !!
After all, I can feel it when he wants to be the first to pick up any phone from India, to greet his Babaji, Amma, Nana and Nani with a sweet namaste (obviously when he is in a mood, else we can keep asing him to talk and he just wouldn't !!)

And before I sign off, here's the latest favorite song of my lil star !! (And it is real fun to see him trying to sing along with this song)

Dil se


Chatterbox said...

Loved your perseverance and dedication of trying it slowly, step by step giving him a proper understanding of both the languages as he grew to learn them both :)

Wonderful work Parul :D


Meira said...

yup. Kids are quick. My nephew can speak fluent hindi n english and understands a bit of both tamil n marathi, his parents' mother tongues. :D

sagarika said...

lovely kid! his comments on the lady not wearing enough clothes :P....

Dil se said...

@CB: Thanks CB. It is an ongoing journey and I am loving evert minute of it :-)
@Meira: Thats what amazes me the most, how much grasping ability they have at this age.

Dil se said...

@Sagarika: Welcome here.Yeah, that comment of his cracked me up too :)

Anonymous said...

Thumbs up! That's for your patience and dedication.. I can foresee myself in the same situation a couple of years from now .. the tips will be helpful :)

Dil se said...

@Anonymous: Welcome to the blog !! Thanks for your comments. And I hope the journey is an enjoyable exp for you too, when the time comes !! Would definitely like to get to know you through your name.