Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Raising Readers With Multilingual Books

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Aloka Gambhir. Aloka is a lactation educator, a professional babywearing educator and a blogger. Her blog Wholesome Mamma talks about all things to do with raising young kids naturally like breastfeeding, babywearing, baby led weaning and other experiences. She loves writing and reviewing books (for kids and adults) when she finds the time, and she reads far more than she writes, something she is really trying to change.)

I have read extensively to my 4.5 year old. His vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds from the age 2 to 4 thanks to the amount of chapter books we read starting young. There were days when we’d spend 1.5 hours or more reading at times and we welcomed holidays too!

I grew up as a child of a mixed language marriage. While that looks great on the outside, the common tongue my parents had was English and my brother and I grew up living in Mumbai but knowing only English fluently with bits of Hindi, Marathi and Gujarathi thrown in for effect. I still feel that though Marathi is not my mother tongue strictly speaking, my parental grandmother is the one person who un wavering in her approach answered back in Marathi during every conversation and I cannot help but remember her fondly every time I hear or speak it. Language is that powerful!

My children are also products of a mixed language marriage where my husband is South Indian and very fluent in his language, and I am Gujarathi / Marathi and fluent in neither. As a result of which my kids only hear English around them and hindi is spoken by the help, which they have picked up and can speak.

From very early on, my first son – now 4.5 – started to speak hindi to anyone who waited on tables or drove cars. When we travelled to London when he was 20 months old I heard him switch to hindi when he spoke to anyone who was serving us. That’s when my husband and I caught on that he thinks that English is what you speak to some people and hindi to a certain set of others, compounding the very elitist attitude that’s been prevalent in India for the past century, and definitely something we did not want to propagate.

Therefore I set about buying bilingual books. I bought plenty of hindi / English and Marathi / English books from Pratham Books and wow what a fabulous effect that had. My son was so fascinated when I started reading in another language that he’d just stay still and listen waiting on every word. At first he asked, why are you reading in hindi mamma? Which gave me even more reason to persevere.

Today we have a enviable stack of bilingual books and we pick any of them at any point fromm amongst hundreds of others as they are just regular books in the pile and not because they are not in English. There is a normalcy in reading in another language, a barrier that my spoken language has just not been able to cross.

Books can teach you things on such subtle levels, like language should not be a barrier and that every language is cool and important. Its not my language, it’s not your language and to celebrate that we must step out of our comfort zone at times and read things in other languages.

My younger son now speaks a lot of Hindi to me too. He is extremely comfortable expressing himself in hindi to everyone around and does not think that he has to reserve it only for our help. I like to think that it has something to do with reading bilingual books to him at a young age.

Unfortunately we have not made much headway in teaching our kids any of our mother tongues as English has been the most easy to do. It’s something we need to take up as a challenge and work on else it will be a real pity for them to lose out on such an important aspect of their heritage.

Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments, how many of you speak to your kids only in your mother tongue and are we being lazy parents in this aspect?

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