“Hello”, “Namaste”, “Haigiddiraa”, “Sata srī akāla” – Your child can learn it all if spoken to them since birth!
Being raised in India, especially in an urban, cosmopolitan environment, it’s inevitable that the child gets exposed to minimum two or three languages (English at school, Hindi in conversation with the general public, and the mother tongue at home (if it is not Hindi as well).
Add to this language curry, the spice of inter-community and inter-national marriages. Born out of love, are then those kids who get exposed to four languages almost since birth! Well, we might think that’s too much for a baby’s brain to handle. Perhaps, it is not. In fact, babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered.
No wonder, mother tongue is sacrosanct for many mothers on the BabyChakra community. Shruti Nagendra Sharma, a Bangalore-based mother says, “My daughter speaks to my parents in Kannada, to me and my husband in Hindi, English in school and to others in the language they speak to her first. She is 3 and, and can converse fluently in all 3 languages.”
A mother and a teacher based in Bangalore,Sandhya Viswan, said, “As an educator, I would suggest each parent speak in their respective mother tongue. Most kids pick up Hindi and English at school. Home is the only place where mother tongue can be picked up. I have had 3-4 year-old students whose parents were from different states and they were fluent in 2-3 languages by the time they joined school. So, by age 6, they were fluent in multiple languages.”
Another dimension of language learning happens when the child is with his/her nanny/daycare. A working mother from our community, Rhituparna, says, “We speak Bengali with our daughter at home. Since she goes to daycare from a young age, I wanted to ensure she is able to express her needs outside home as well. So I repeat simple sentences in Bengali, Hindi and English, especially the nouns and verbs.” Shruti added, “My 3-year-old daughter is picking up Telugu from her nanny now, and though not fluent, she understands it perfectly.”
Kids also learn fast from their peers as that’s their language at play! “My 3-year-old happily follows Marathi, Malayalam and Oriya when she plays with kids in our neighborhood”, adds Rhituparna. “My hubby is African and his mother tongue is different, which is called Igbo language. So we speak with kids in English at home. As they play with kids in the society, they are learning Hindi as well”, says Samreen Syed.
Learning language is also a key element of learning the culture the parents belong to. Laxmi Chowath Banerjee, a Malyali-married to a Bengali, asserts, “Highly imperative that he knows both Malayalam and Bengali, at least conversational!”
No matter what languages they speak, most mums in the BabyChakra community feel that children should be exposed to as many languages as possible early in life as they have the capacity to pick up at a tender age. Over time, their vocabulary builds up. Merzia Maskati, an expert, in speech and language learning abilities, on the panel of BabyChakra, assures, “Exposing a baby to an environment with multiple languages is the fastest and most effortless way to teach another language. It does not confuse the child, in fact, it allows them to use words from other languages when they forget or don't know the word in their primary language. This is when they are still learning language. Example: "Give me pani (water)" Mixing of languages is common in a multilingual child and this usually settles by age 4.”
To understand this topic better from an expert’s point of view, read - How does hearing many languages affect your child's speech development?
To gather the other interesting views of Moms on this subject, click here.
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