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Children And Language Skills

With the increasing cross-cultural marriages in India, many children typically end up with the parents having two very different native languages. For e.g.: Father – Hindi & Mother – Telugu or Father – Malayalam & Mother – Bengali or Father – English & Mother – Tamil, etc.

Exposing Children To Different Languages - Children And Language Skill

One important decision (consciously or unconsciously) which most parents end up having to make is what languages to teach their children. Here’s the fact: Teaching your child a language requires time and effort. And in today’s day and age – Time is a scarce commodity! Hence, many parents make conscious decisions and choices on this issue. Broadly this is what I’ve seen:

  • Decide to focus on English, and not really teach any of the vernacular languages. Of course, whatever first/second language is part of the school curriculum is anyways learned
  • Decide to focus on one language only, i.e., Father’s native language or Mother’s native language
  • Decide to teach the child both the languages, i.e., Father’s native language and Mother’s native language. The only pre-requisite is that both parents/families have to play an active role in the language teaching/learning process
  • Not make any decision on the issue; and let the child learn as he/she grows

I’ve read and heard so many contradictory and conflicting views, opinions and perspectives on the subject of “Children and Language skills”. On one end are those who believe that you should speak/teach a child only one language till the age of 5 – lest he/she gets confused; and on the other end a view which says that children below the age of 5 can be taught several (3 at least) languages really easily – since their natural ability to learn, absorb and comprehend language skills is the best during this phase.

Personally, I can proudly say that I know several languages – English, Telugu [my parents’ native language], Kannada [as I studied in Bangalore, and hence it naturally was my second language at school], Hindi [It was my third language at school, and is, of course, the National language of India], Tamil and Malayalam [which I never formally learned, but picked up from friends/neighbours], French and German [which I formally learned in my 20’s out of personal interest & also scored the highest possible grades 🙂 ]. Of course, the proficiency in each of these is very different. For e.g.: in English, my oral and written skills are the strongest.

In Tamil, I can manage to have a basic conversation, make a point or get my message across (OK! Sometimes I do end up saying wrong things – But then hey! Show me one person who’s never made any language mistake in his life, and I’ll give you a bumper gift!). And I managed just fine with my French (supported by English) when I was in Paris, and just fine with my German (supported by English) when I was in Switzerland. Though, I also know that if I had to give a job interview in French/German today, I’m sure to fail. 🙁

So from my own language experiences, I can say the following:

  • It is easier to learn a new language when you are young. As you grow older, you have to unlearn a lot more. In my personal case, I found learning German in my 20’s to be really really really hard!
  • A strong foundation in English is an absolute MUST! The way I see it English is here to stay, and so 50 – 100 years later when your children will be much older, their English language skills will make all the difference.
  • A language is really a medium of communication – So while you may be an expert in written communication in two/three languages, if you know enough to converse and make your point in a few languages especially based on the place you reside in – It should be good enough!
  • It is important and critical for children to learn both the native languages of their parents. After all, a language is an integral part of ones native culture. And in my view, your comprehension of your lineage is unexplainably linked to the language

Now, looking at my own daughter (who’s about 3years old), I see that she is naturally picking up 3 languages – English, Hindi and Telugu. It’s taking time and effort, but she’s slowly learning the pronunciation, grammar, words and vocabulary as a part of school, everyday conversations and interactions. And with the internet/regional TV channels, there are so many resources/avenues to expose children to different languages through videos, songs, books, etc. How long she will continue and sustain on this 3-language journey, only time will tell! For now, here’s what I do know – Sooner children are exposed to different languages, the sooner they’ll learn and pick-up language skills.

That’s my view. What’s yours? Leave a comment to let me know.

Nischala Murthy Kaushik is mother and philosopher rolled into one (the philosophical streak emerged after she became a mother – essential for balance, she believes). She is an Engineer and Management Graduate (IIMB Alumni) by Education, IT / Innovation / Marketing Professional by Employment, Google / Blog / Twitter / Social Media Lover by Era, Writer by Passion, Dreamer by Compulsion,  Student of Life by Choice, Eternal Optimist by Necessity and Chief Happiness Officer of LIFE by Realization. She blogs @ Nischala’s Space, Thoughts and Expressions AND VERVE : The Quintessence of my Life . In addition, she is also as a guest blogger in several sites of global repute; and her blogs have been featured in several Best-Of lists and on the Directory of Top Indian blogs. She tweets @nimu9 and is also listed among the 50 Indian Women to follow on Twitter.