Raising multilingual kids in the US – II

               Hailing from a country like India where hundreds of languages exist, picking up a new one seems like not a big deal to us. People move from one part of the country to the other all the time in search of opportunities for education, jobs, business or after marriage. And it always helps to learn the local language. My mother had picked up Tamil when she went to live in the lovely hillstation Ooty after marriage. Decades later, when I joined my first job in Hyderabad fresh out of college, I picked up a bit of Telugu. 

               A lot of Indians in US, I find, speak to their kids solely in English though they speak a different language amongst themselves as a couple. Perhaps they do not see the point in investing time in something for their kids which is not going to be used a lot in school or other social settings. Or may be they tried initially and just gave up thinking it would confuse the kids more. Again, there are parents who just want their kids to be able to converse with their extended family in the native languages. For me, the reasons for wanting to raise multilingual kids went beyond just personal and cultural ones, though they were the primary motivators. Recent research such as this shows that brain development occurs differently for kids that are exposed early in their childhood to multiple languages. Though we should take all research with a pinch of salt, it does seem that multilingual kids are at a distinct advantage than their monolingual peers in terms of analytical, social and literacy skills. Forget all research…your kids in their teens or preteens might want, nay, demand, to know what’s going on in a particular scene from a Bollywood flick! Yes, I have seen that happen. Wouldn’t it be nice for them to be able to watch a Hindi movie or a song without pestering you for the meaning/subtitles? Wouldn’t it be nice for them to be able to read Shakespeare as well as Sharatchandra and Premchand? Ok, I know, I know that now I am aiming too high, but you get the drift, right?

               Coming back to our story, my son did not speak beyond 4-5 words even at 2 years of age. What he could do at this stage was point to objects – colors, alphabets, things in a book, toys, things in the room etc. – when asked about these. He could also follow simple instructions like ‘Bring your bottle’, ‘Keep your jacket there’, ‘Close the door’, ‘Bring Papa to kitchen’… (ok, the last one I just made up :-)). We take this for granted – but having the ability to speak words opens up a world to us. When I look back, now I know that a lot of tantrums and bad behavior that our son would throw at us was related to his not being able to speak and/or see well. Yes, we found out about his high power in the eyes just around this time and he got his first glasses a month before he turned two. Having glasses made him calmer, happier and we too could know to some extent what he had been missing all this time. The pediatrician told us that once receptive language (such as understanding/ comprehending words, ability to follow instructions) was there, hopefully expressive language will come through in time. So what could we do apart from waiting? Apparently, a lot!

               We got a special education teacher, who turned out to be nothing short of an angel for us. But all he did with Advik, was, PLAY. Can you believe it? He brought new and yet newer types of toys – the days that he came. And played all kinds of games with him. Sometimes they would together sort vehicles into different colors, sometimes they would sort them into different types (air/ water/ land) or by name(car, ship, plane, train, truck). Sometimes they would make funny faces or shapes or animals using play doh. Sometimes, they would play using different types of shape-sorter toys. At other times, they would blow bubbles and make a good mess that I would have to clean up later! 🙂 I can never forget the magical joy I felt when my son, while playing with this person, uttered the word ‘Bubbles, Bubbles!’ for the first time! I’m sure it was something like what Michelle’s parents felt when they heard her speak her first word ‘Water’ interacting with Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the Hindi movie Black. Not so dramatic, perhaps, but definitely something similar… All said and done, his teacher was there only for a couple of hours a week. What about the rest of the time when only we, his parents, were there ? Shall talk about that in details in the next and final part.