Thursday, March 17, 2011

A push start to read/write/speak-in a new language

I wrote here that 'J' had to start her school on return to India from middle of the session in class 2 and she had to learn Hindi- a language which is taught in  many schools as second language (along with English), later she also have to learn Marathi, language of the state we are living now. Yes, in India it is very much like Europe. There are almost thirty states with different languages and then there is Hindi and English as the linkers, depending on which part of India you are living.

The school does not provide any special training system for Hindi/English for kids who start from zero (unlike in Germany and UK where German or English are taught in extra classes for non speakers). Specifically as she was starting in class 2 and also in the middle of the term. So the ball of starting Hindi in 'J' s life bounced to our court. We talked with the school, they said they will also do their best within the present context. Now I felt that I can take two approaches as a parent.

a) Not to bother - (specially if the family is not native Hindi speaker-we are Bengalis) as Hindi will diminish any how in the curriculum if the child is not pursuing Hindi literature as her future prospect. Science, commerce and humanities (mostly) are taught in English in India in universities (that we owe to our 200 years of colonial era).  So the child will slowly grow with poor attention to Hindi or other Indian languages. S/he can always read about Hindi literature in English (translated).

b) Bother - as Hindi is a rich language and knowing Hindi can bring you close to many other languages/people of India. The languages are made richer by strong literature they have and it is always nicer to read things in original. And learning a language is a skill, why miss the opportunity if got.

Yes, no prize for guessing we fall in the second category.

So on accepting our mental state, I sat down on my knees to find out the resources and the tips to teach yet another language to 'J'. After few days of bypassing 'J' also sat down with me and promised me she will try her best.

Previously she has learned English/German with minimum input from mine, with most responsibility taken by the school/kindergarten. I just helped her as resource provider and we practiced at home as an extension of school. Most of the time she took 3-6 months to start speaking a language. Almost one year to start writing in sentences.

So now I was revisiting the previous methods used by school or daycares;
  1. Teaching alphabets with linking to a single word, so that when you speak the alphabet they recognize it through imagining the word. Phonetically pronouncing the alphabets. 
  2. Incorporating songs, rhymes, stories, games in regular activities to enrich the vocabulary
  3. Teaching 100 most useful simple words
  4. Through simple non informative, well illustrated books with lots of repetition of words e.g., Oxford reading tree books for English (also available via flipkart) where those 100 words are used repeatedly to tell simple yet funny stories. Other good reads were Usborne books and Lady bird books
  5. Using proper pronunciation and expressions while reading
  6. Starting to write only after a level of reading ability is built
  7. Starting to write with simple three letter words.
  8. Encouraging to write diaries, stories with pictures, talk
  9. Not correcting spellings all the times - minimal criticism while teaching something new
  10. Teaching to write joining letters and then more complex words
  11. Using lots of situations, pictures, projects (Outdoor also-like sea project to learn so many words related to sea) to increase the vocabulary.
  12. Utilizing skills like Drama, sports, arts and music to relate words with action.
  13. Grammar
  14. Regular repetition
I felt that this method can be quite helpful guide for teaching Hindi too, so I followed the steps as it is.
So for Hindi, how we started and where are we standing now?
  1. I taught her the alphabets which are hanging according to her (Not standing as in English or German) and are many more in numbers, but thanks to the funny shapes to them that she was able to recognize them after first 1-2 month of agony (trying-more positively).
  2. Started telling her some rhymes and prompted her to listen children songs and Bollywood songs too! Started reading simple stories.
  3. Hindi has matras, Double Decker words and lots of bindis. To deal with them I took the help of funny pronunciation act i.e., when there is bindi, I shrink my nose to bring out the nasal tone or when there are matras I stress out the matra sound like Aam (for mango) I always say AAAAAMI/2dli for Idli (steamed rice cake-a snack). 'J' found it fun and she took it as a game. Phew!
  4. Although no list of 100 simple words available as Hindi is not taught on that principle but I tried to assemble some simple words and read them together repeatedly.
  5. Finding resources was little challenging as in India too the children book market is targeted more for English readers and in other languages books are of bad quality papers and pictures with no contemporary topic, mostly mythological or moral stories. No 'J' used to of silky-satiny colored books would not go for them. I tried searching other options, and thank god other parents are thinking same and there are publications dedicated to this demand. Tulika books came for my rescue-although hard to find them in book store, but they have online stores, I learned about Tara and Pratham books  (with online shopping facility) too. Pratham books are very economical. And there are Karadi tales (from Amar chitrakatha). They are translating world books for Indian kids. And a add on, most of these publishers try to bring Indian art, culture and folklore in their way of story telling. Good for us! NCERT books are also very good and written with great care. Writers like Manorama Jafa, Sandhya Rao gave us some more options. Then there Scholastic books and they have large collection of English books and some picturesque Hindi books too.
  6. Yes we used expressions from day one of our reading/talking Hindi.
  7. It was not possible to wait long as school was running faster (Oh there is a great hurry of finishing syllabus in Indian schools, sometimes at least for primary classes it feels so overwhelming and unnecessary). Teacher in school at one point decided that 'J' should start doing same tasks as others. It was little overwhelming for both of us. We were learning things slowly and steadily. But then we took the challenge. 'J' started putting more input and she survived. Her reading skills matured a lot although she was not always understanding what she was reading due to lack of vocabulary.
  8. Any way we started writing small words. I also made small stories for her using only one or two matras and simple words.
  9. Here are we standing now. Also I reckoned through the way that Hindi or any other Indian languages have more emphasis on synonyms i.e., we have more words, for one 'thing/expression/relation', like a simple 'uncle' can be 'Mama', 'chacha', 'fufa', 'mausa' according to the relation the one have with the person. So it needs more practice. Here just at this point I am figuring out how to proceed as more and more kids in our neighbourhood prefer speaking in English. Need to find some tricks to pursue all of them to speak Hindi at  least when they are playing in our place.

It has been 4 months we have started this project, 'J' has started reading Hindi books written in simple words, though she gets stuck often but she is not afraid any more and is feeling positive towards her new gain. She does her Hindi home works regularly which she was trying to bypass in the beginning.
For her home works she tells me her answers in English then I help her to re frame it in Hindi putting proper words.

Today it is her last day in class 2. They will have party in school. I was expecting 'J' to get up and start blabbering excitedly, but instead she was rubbing her eyes and was murmuring, "Mamma, what will happen to my Hindi in class 3?"
I was astonished my that little baby is already learning to think about tomorrows to come.
I convinced her, "In these holidays we will work on class 2 - Hindi and then when school will start you will be ready for class 3."

She smiled and started getting ready for the school. I went to the kitchen to prepare the sandwiches for her party.

p. s. Suggestions are welcome for going further.


  1. Just for moral support, I started Hindi from scratch in class 3, that too as first language. This was the age of (almost) no TV and none of my parents knew any Hindi. In the beginning I had to go through comments from my classmates like "Tumko rasgulla milega". By the end of class 4, I was fluent in Hindi and in Madhyamik I got highest in the board. I thank my teachers and fellow classmates for this.
    I don't use Hindi much anymore, but it definitely made me richer through literature and friendships and the experience gave me immense confidence at that age.

  2. Thank you Rituparna, I also have somewhat similar experience in learning Hindi, actually my mother learned it while teaching me. Learning a language is always a plus.

  3. My dad skipped from Kindergarten to Third grade, and so he didn't learn Hindi. But, a few years ago, he decided to teach himself. I think its really wonderful to learn a new language...
    And I agree with you that the high number of languages, foods, etc makes India similar to Europe its diversity...

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