Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hindi Aur Hum

(21st February is International Mother Language Day and we have a series of posts related to this subject on our blog today. This post has been written by our guest blogger Choxbox. Choxbox believes that education is the key to changing lives and works for an NGO that rehabilitates abandoned girl children. She lives in Bangalore where she often goes for walks with her two children and always comes back amazed by the drama of life. Visit her blog : http://choxbox2.blogspot.com)

One time when my firstborn was an infant I took her for a regular check-up to the surgery (as a clinic is called in the UK) and as I was unwrapping the layers off her I kept 'talking' to her. The doctor turned around and started listening with interest. Then she proceeded to give me a pamphlet which talked about bilingual children and explained the correct way of introducing a second language to her because otherwise it could result in speech delay. I thanked her but was also slightly amused - after all, it is normal for a child growing up in India to learn several languages at the same time. By age 5, I could speak Gujarati (my mother tongue), Hindi (albeit the Hyderabadi version!), Telugu and English. And I was known to be a total chatterbox from the minute I entered the world (still are one, I can hear 'em say) and speech delays seemed to have pretty much missed me.

We noted with interest that folks who had moved countries could broadly be categorized into two types: one bunch who'd go out of their way and get their kids to speak only in English so that they would be able to integrate better, a fact borne out when school admission assessments come around - some private schools clearly prefer children who can speak fluent English with the local accent. Then the other bunch, like us, who'd go equally out of their way to ensure their kids absolutely spoke only their native tongue till they went to school - because hey they'd anyway learn English later right? We were so fanatic about the idea that we switched over to Hindi (the husband's language) so that the kid could hear it around. In our quest to find more resources (no youtube then remember?!) we hunted down a couple of audio cassettes. This is how we bumped into Karadi Tales' Bandar Bindaas Bandar compilation. Every India visit thereafter would find us searching for more stuff we could use. And as happens sometimes, we became more desi than folks in India and thus landed in the interesting situation where our daughter would speak to her Bharat-nivaasi cousin in Hindi and he would reply in English!

We waited till the concept of English letters and sounds was mastered and fluent reading kicked in before we introduced Hindi letters. In one of the talks for parents in her school I saw how language is taught in the Montessori methodology. I was floored. In our next des trip I dragged along my ever-willing-to-help FIL, my children (one outside and one inside me) and myself to Turkman Gate - I had learnt from a family friend that a supplier of Montessori materials lived somewhere there. With a vague idea of where to find him, we marched up and down the labyrinth of lanes, some of which were so narrow that not even the rickshaw could go in. Finally we arrived at a dark and dank workshop and met A Bhai, a frail old Muslim gentleman who talked to us only after he noticed how excited I was upon seeing the stuff he'd created. He crafted a beautiful Maatra Box (or the Hindi Moveable Alphabet) for us. Wooden letters from this and a wall chart saw us through the initial learning of Hindi letters.

Next we moved to the maatras. I told stories of how 'aa' and her friends up to 'ahaa' are a rather busy bunch and hence send representatives called 'maatras' when they are needed. Once she got this concept and the fact that consonants in Hindi already have the 'uh' sound unlike in English, it was all a piece of cake. Teaching Hindi was simple because it is phonetic. No complications at all.

At this point I needed books. Ones which would interest her. On the next annual trip to India I did rounds of the local bookstores only to find textbooks and some very basic non-textbooks. It was then that I bumped into Pratham Books via a friend who volunteered for them in London. I was thrilled to bits and that would be an understatement. I could not believe their prices and placed an order like a kid in a candy store. The low prices meant that I could buy the same book in both English and Hindi, something I thought would help comprehend the nuances of the two different languages. Imagine my delight when I discovered bilingual books when they came into the market later! I now know of many publishers who bring out awesome books in several Indian languages and one is literally spoilt for choice.

We happened to eventually move back to India. It has been a huge plus point that the kids knew Hindi - for one it did not restrict our school options and for the other they picked up Kannada in no time given that the structure of most Indian languages is similar. We loved that they could communicate beautifully with their great-grandmother and also talk easily with the kids in the street or with anyone else. And I guess it helps them understand and appreciate the drama of everyday life in this beautiful chaotic country better.

Image Source : tanvi_s19in

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