Friday, October 9, 2015

Practice makes multilingualism perfect! Teaching our preschooler 3 languages, in our lives as expats.

India with her twenty-nine states, each speaking a different language with various dialects, is like a mini Europe with all those countries and all those languages. The common thread is the language Hindi, which is most widely spoken across the country. And owing to two hundred years of colonialism and euro-centric education, most of the people from the middle & upper classes have the privilege of going to English medium schools, hence it is normal to come across Indians speaking fluent English. 

So most of us are fluent in at least 2 or 3 languages. A combination of English, Hindi and a regional language that is spoken at home. If there is similarity of your regional language with another regional one or if you’ve been exposed long enough, its common to understand that language too. We are also taught Sanskrit or Urdu to able to read and understand our religious books and scriptures. Over and above this, there could be an option of a Foreign language (usually French or German, I selected French) in high school. 

The Practical Mom: Practice makes multilingualism perfect! Teaching our preschooler 3 languages, in our lives as expats.

We learnt some Bahasa Indonesia when we moved to Indonesia. It was after the initial reluctance though, since the we were there for a limited time and it is a language specific to that country only (We never met *anyone* who spoke Bahasa after we left the country). We were far from fluent and were probably driving Indonesian grammar nazis raging mad, but just a vocabulary of say 500 words was good enough to get by. So Bahasa Indonesian was another language in our kitty.

When we moved to Chile, we knew for sure that we will need to learn Spanish, since it is always a good idea if you’re moving to a non-English speaking country. We have barely begun this journey with a new language (albeit, reeeeal slow) yet we are amazed by how *most* people here speak only one language! 

I know there are logical reasons behind it. Historically only the Spanish ruled here. The country’s too far from anywhere else. Most of the continent speaks this language. Spanish speaking population is statistically neck to neck with English speaking population (spoken as first language), beaten only by Chinese, and followed by Hindi landing on 4th place (Source).

There are many interesting books and articles elaborately explaining the benefits of bi and multilingualism that could not be more legit! (Here’s a related TED talk) Even in China they are teaching English as a second language, while in the US they teach Spanish as the second language. So why do people here go blank when I say something as common as “excuse me”? 

I’m only trying to figure out why is it okay to teach or learn only one language. Even my maid in India who didn’t have the privilege to study in an English speaking school, spoke three languages : Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, all 3 distinctly different from each other. 

I’m told in Chile, a second language is barely taught in public schools that are attended by the lower & middle classes. And although it is taught in schools attended by the middle & upper classes, few speak fluently without pausing between words while forming sentences. A big reason is probably the lack of adequate practice! 

There isn’t any point of learning a language if it isn’t backed with regular practice. I don’t remember *any* Sanskrit I studied for three straight years in school. Or the French I studied in high school. Yet I am not astonished by the number of Bahasa Indonesian words that pop in my mind every time I’m trying to translate, even though we haven’t spoken any of it in two years. Simply because we practiced it everyday for two years that we lived there.

If you ask what’s the point of learning a whole language, if you are going to forget it anyways? I’m going to say what’s the point of LIFE, if you’re going to die anyways!

My almost 4 year old picked up all his Hindi from outside home, as we speak mostly English at home. From school, caregivers, domestic help, vegetable vendor, shop keepers and friends! Hence I’m pretty sure he’ll pick up his bit of Spanish from his environment at school in Chile too. I’m just worried that he may trade in one language for another! It’s fantastic that he is exposed to Spanish, yet I DEFINITELY don’t want him to forget any Hindi. This calls for a conscious effort and special rituals to speak Hindi with him regularly. The newest habit we are trying to inculcate is dedicating breakfast time to talking only in Hindi. On school days, breakfast lasts for not more than fifteen minutes, so its a perfect time slot. 

What’s the point of all that effort? Well, what’s the point of life!

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Related links from around the world:

15 Fun Facts about Schools around the World  |  European Mama  |  Click Here

Bilingual Myths that are Crippling your Kids  |  Bilingual Kids Rock  |  Click Here  

TED Talk  | In her talk, longtime English teacher Patricia Ryan asks a provocative question: Is the world's focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages? (For instance: what if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?) It's a passionate defense of translating and sharing ideas  |  Click here  

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  1. We started trying to teach our children Spanish at an early hasn't gone so well. We, the parents, are not fluent in any other language and so wanted our kids to be. I think we should definitely start teaching our children a second language early on. Thanks for your insight! I also really like all of your ideas for activities with toddlers!W

  2. My daughter is picking up bits and pieces of various languages from her multi-cultural school. I'm trying to learn French as an adult and am so impressed by how she picks it up so easily without even trying! Definitely wise to learn while they're young! Thanks for sharing at the Thoughtful Spot!

  3. Thanks for sharing with the #pinitparty :)

  4. Thanks for all the lovely comments ladies ! :)