Raising multilingual kids in the US – I

               “Boys typically start speaking late, don’t worry; in no time he’ll be blabbering all about”…“May be you should send him to fulltime daycare and he’ll start speaking by seeing other kids”…“The firstborns, as a rule, do everything late and that includes talking”…“Why don’t you guys try conversing only in English at home? The poor kid is all confused with all these different languages”…“May be you should consider sending him to India for sometime, he’ll start speaking within days”…“Have you considered the possibility that your son might be autistic?”…

The above were some of the reactions of people around us when my son simply refused to speak even after he crossed 2 years of age! Till that time, frankly, my husband and I were not worrying too much about this issue. Most kids of our Indian friends or neighbors here in US started speaking quite a bit late than their cousins back in India. Everybody told us that kids in India, on average, speak much earlier due to more scope for social interaction.

On top of that, ours is an inter-lingual marriage. Hindi is my husband’s native language while my mother-tongue is Bangla. Both Hindi and Bangla are derived from Sanskrit. So while etymologically these two languages are similar to some extent – a lot of pronunciation, scripts and some of the grammar are different. Though my husband and I converse primarily in Hindi, I was very sure that with my kids I would converse primarily in Bangla. So we had kind-of  expected that our kids will take more time to learn to speak. After all, some initial confusion while listening to two different languages is inevitable. But even after two years, when our son hadn’t learnt to utter any words apart from ‘Mammi’, ‘Papa’ and a few others, we started worrying.

Our son’s pediatrician questioned us in details about his behavior and habits. Especially if he seemed to be lagging in terms of development to other kids his age. I told her frankly that physically he achieved his milestones much earlier, it was only this speaking part he seemed to be having trouble with. And he did not have trouble pointing at the right object when asked. So I was sure that he understood things and concepts, just was not interested in speaking (At least that’s what it seemed to me at that time…Just as I know now that he’s simply not interested in eating. Just one of those things he feels is not worth the effort when he could be doing other naughty and fun stuff). My husband told the doctor that he himself had started speaking only after 2 even though he was in India. So may be a little bit of genetics too was in place here? I called up my mom in India to know when I started talking as a kid 🙂 Nope, no problem there. Seems like most girls, I started speaking much earlier.

Fast forward to one year later, by 3 years of age my son could speak a lot of Bangla and Hindi and a little bit of English. He could speak the letters of all the 3 scripts in proper accents. He started reading English books reasonably well around this time too. Not only that, he knew what language to use based on his audience. With me, he spoke in Bangla; with his Dad and his Dada-Dadi in Hindi and with neighbours, he spoke in English. It seemed to me as if his brain had finally started putting together all the pieces of this big language-puzzle. So how did this change come about within a span of a few months? Stay tuned for our interesting journey ahead…