Parenting: East vs West? – II

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.

– Rudyard Kipling

              Like food, music, culture, politics and a host of other things in life, parenting styles too differ between the East and the West. As Indians residing in foreign lands, it is better if we educate ourselves on a lot of things including the local laws related to child protection. Sometimes, a little awareness goes a long way in avoiding unpleasant situations like these where the kids involved in both the cases were taken back to India as a result of custody-issues.
              While the world is coming closer as a result of globalization and barriers are breaking, there still exist differences between the traditional ways of parenting in the eastern and western worlds. Please understand that the purpose is not to criticize one above the other – rather the idea is to present both the perspectives and let you be the judge of how you want to deal with these issues while raising your kids. Another thing is – traditions change too. What was the norm a few decades ago in the US or India does not hold true today in many areas. This might be as a result of the latest research, a consequence of changing demographics and laws or just a sign of the changing times. I’m covering just the basics here, not the bigger aspects like education, disciplining, morals or spirituality etc.
               So here we go:

    • Pregnancy:  Though there’s no baby born yet at this stage, I included this because the journey with your baby begins well in womb. The traditional Indian way till recently used to have very less involvement from the would-be dad during the 9 months of pregnancy. In many instances, the would-be mom used to go to her parents’ place for some much-needed rest and pampering.
                     Traditionally, American women go through all the 9 months of pregnancy – throw-ups, swollen feet, heartburn, shopping for the baby, lamaze classes and all – with just the husbands by their sides. Surely, there are advices and help from parents, in-laws, neighbours; but having someone else other than the spouse stay to help you during pregnancy is not the norm.
    • Birth:  In US most hospitals offer the option of having your husband or any close relative by your side when you welcome your child to this world. Roughly one-third of births in the US are Caesarian while in India, C-sections account for 9% of all births. The reasons for Caesarians differ though between the two. In USA, C-sections are performed mostly for medical reasons such as placenta issues, breech position, fetal distress, multiple births etc.
                     According to a WHO study, in many Asian countries including India, the reasons for C-sections apart from medical ones are: Fear of pain during labor, less time consumed during C-section compared to the natural process (for both patients and doctors), financial gains for the doctor and/or the hospital, wanting birth to occur on auspicious days and times, wrongly perceived notion of C-section being less risky.
    • Eating: The traditional Indian way is……. to feed your child in any way possible! The adage ‘ The ends justify the means’ was probably coined to describe the obsession of Indian parents and grandparents to feed the kids as much as possible employing any means of distraction.TV, laptop, Ipad, books, stories, acting, music, outdoors, bribing, threats – everything is tried, tested and justified in order to put that last morsel into the baby’s mouth.
                     What’s the American way? Well, the kids here learn to feed themselves at an average age of 18 months. They start feeding themselves with finger-foods and graduate to using spoons and forks in a few months or years. I have never seen an American mom running behind her son imploring him to finish off his food. Our pediatrician told us specifically that we as parents should take care of only the quality of food; the quantity of intake should be left to the kids.
    • Toilet Training: The Indian way is based on, what I call,  cues and clues. A soft whistling or a grunting (cues) by the caregiver makes the baby associate those sounds with pee/poop. The caregiver, in turn, looks for clues that the baby is ready to relieve and to be carried to the toilet. All this comes under Elimination Communication.
                     Interestingly, the American way used to be similar to the above earlier until the advent of mass-scale diapers in the 1960s. That changed things for sure and the average age of potty-trained US kids jumped from less than 1.5 years to  well over 3 years in recent years. Here’s an interesting article on how there are different approaches at play even here within the USA. Don’t forget to check out the funny ‘naked and $75‘ technique in there 🙂
                     Then there’s the issue of usage of toilet-paper versus water. There used to be an ad showing a person eating and then cleaning his plate using paper instead of washing it with soap and water. I don’t remember the context but the question was probably of hygiene. Toilet-rolls, wet wipes, bidets, hand-held sprayers, or just good old water and mug – there are more options out there than you’d think!

Baby sleeping separately from parents in a crib

  • Sleeping: When I used to read Calvin and Hobbes, I always used to wonder why there were so many ‘monster under my bed’, ‘monster in the closet’ chapters. But today as a mom of 2 and 5 year olds, I fully understand where all that fear comes from! The standard norm in the Western world is to have separate beds and/or bedrooms for each of the kids, depending on affordability and comfortability. Audio or video monitors are used to keep tabs on the child. There are various variations of this in No Tears or Cry It Out methods.

    Baby sharing bed with parent

                   The traditional Indian way has been what is termed as Co-sleeping. A few neighbours and friends asked me this – “If you share your bed with your kids, how do you manage to get …err…intimate with your spouse?” Oh, come on…, looking at India’s population, do you really think existing kids have been a problem? 🙄 If a couple is into each other, they will always find time and space to be intimate; On the other hand, if emotional barriers exist, then even being next to each other you can be far apart forever.

              What works for your kid at 3 months of age might be different from what works for her at 3 years of age. The key is to be flexible and keep your options open. Also, you might find that a combination of both styles works the best for you. A perfect example would be the attachable crib called bednest, using which you can care for your baby lying right next to you, while the baby has a separate space to sleep nonetheless.

Baby in an attachable crib

              Normally, parents everywhere love and care for their kids with the best intentions in mind. There’s no reason to deduce that just because your neighbour makes her kids sleep in a separate room, she loves them less. Just as you do not become less hygienic if you feed your baby with your own hands as long as you wash them properly beforehand. However, proper communication is a must in order to avoid misinterpretations. For example, we never shy away from explaining why our daughter’s head has been shaved off this summer. What is unknown is feared. As soon as you explain the unknown, it becomes known to them and you would find on your end that most people are open-minded about knowing new stuff. Different? YES. Something to fear or despise? NO. And – it goes both ways. Because…Human emotions are the same everywhere, be it East or West!

But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!

– Rudyard Kipling


Parenting: East vs West? – I

               The first drops of rain falling on your face, the kiss of a beloved, reading your favorite novel, the hug of your child, a hot chocolate drink on a cold day, watching the sunrise, a call from your best friend!  Some things in life remain just the same wherever you are in the world… in a good way, I mean to say.

               One could very well add the love and care of a parent to the list above – at least that’s what it would seem on first look. Sadly, the reality is a bit different. Our world is not perfect and there are instances of child abuse – sometimes even by own parents. This is where Child Protective Services (CPS) step in. The agencies may be variously known as Child Welfare Services (CWS), Social Services, Family and Child Welfare Services etc. in different regions. Basically, they are agencies that are responsible for acting for the welfare of children who are reported to be abused either physically, emotionally, sexually or through neglect. In many countries, they have sweeping powers. According to the Child Welfare League of America website, they “are also responsible for helping to put in place a plan for safety and services to the children and families. This may include child care, medical care, parenting education, housing, family supervision, drug treatment, or a placement for the child.”

               The reason I am talking about this issue is because of 2 related incidents concerning Indian parents abroad. The first one occurred in Norway earlier this year. 3-year old Abhigyan and 1-year old Aishwarya were taken away by the Norwegian CWS from their parents – a nightmarish situation for any normal family. Initially, cultural differences were cited by the parents as the reason for this, but later this was found to be untrue. After much drama – including cries of racism by the Indian media, changing of stances by the parents and intervention by the Indian government – the children were finally placed in custody of their paternal uncle back in India. The exact reason for such a drastic action by the CWS still remains unknown; there have been various reports of the mother suffering from depression and the son having emotional detachment disorder, but nobody knows which media reports to believe. The Norwegian CWS remained tightlipped throughout the entire case citing confidentiality.

               More recently and closer home, there is this case of 1-year old Indrashish earlier this month. He was rushed in to a hospital by his parents and underwent surgery in head “due to injuries after falling from the bed”. But the CPS in NJ, USA suspects the subdural heamatoma and retinal clot the child had to be part of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Last I heard of this case is that the matter is sub judice and the child is in the custody of Child Protection Agency.

               Contrast the above with the cases of Baby Falak, Baby Afreen, Baby Shireen and numerous other child-abuse cases in India, a majority of which go unreported in the media. Which system would you prefer? A draconian one that monitors and sometimes takes pre-emptive actions against suspected child-abuse? Or one that is so slow and sluggish that no one knows if or when any conviction will be done within the next decade even when abused children die? Check out this article that states the inadequacies of the system while giving details of the Baby Falak case.

               On any day, I would prefer an imperfect system in which parents are held accountable to law for their kids’ safety even by overzealous agencies to having no proper system in place at all for child-protection. Having said that, separating a child from its family should be the last resort in most of the cases. I recall an incident that our pediatrician was telling us when she was explaining that parents in the United States can face legal action or have their children taken away at the worst if anything drastic happens to the child. In this case, the toddler had fallen down from either a bed or the stairs (I don’t remember which). The baby had a broken femur bone as a result of the fall; and the doctor had to report this to the police under Mandated reporting (more on this later). The parents in this case were let off with a warning as this seemed to be a one-off accident. This seemed to me an adequate response at that time.

               A study of Child Abuse Laws in the USA reveals the following:

The laws concerning this vary from state to state, but the basic premises remain the same.

  • Firstly, the child abuse has to be suspected and reported. Some states in the USA have the schemes of mandated reporting. Who reports that child abuse has occurred? Anybody can!
  • Mandated Reporting:  In Maryland, for example, the following are required by law to report child-abuse as soon as they suspect it, without waiting for any proof – Health Practitioner (i.e. doctor/nurse), Educator, Human Service worker (social worker), Police Officer. Besides this, any other citizen who suspects child abuse/neglect ought to report it. It depends on the will of the reporter whether he/she wants identity to be revealed. Also, there is a confidentiality clause keeping in mind the welfare of the child first and foremost.
  • The local social services department or the law enforcement agency investigates the incident including nature, extent, circumstances and all pertinent information.
  • Depending on the degree of child-abuse the responsible agency will decide the further course of action, if the child-abuse incident is found to be true  – Family counseling, Medical treatment, Childcare services, Emergency Shelter home, Foster Care, Legal action etc.

               Does having so many safeguards ensure that child abuse including neglect never happen? Of course, not! But in this system, there is some provision for the weakest sections of the society – babies and children- to have a voice. As parents we need to have at least basic awareness of the local laws of the land. At the same time, we need to have a clear understanding of the differences between eastern and western styles of parenting. Because there indeed are some fundamental differences between these. More on that in the next part…

So, what kind of Dad are you?

               Having a kid transforms your life – life, as you know it, will never be the same again! There are of course, different parenting styles. When you become a parent yourself, you tend to draw a lot of stuff from the way you were raised by your parents. Today being Father’s Day, this is my observation of the changing times and the Dads around me. So what kind of Dad are you?

Traditional Dad: He is the one who believes in the traditional role of man being the provider for the family.  This often translates into Dad wearing the pants in the family. He is clear about the activities of his kids he ought to be involved in – a little bit or almost none of the feeding/diapering/ bathing/putting to bed part. Sorry, that’s the Mom’s department! He might occasionally read them a story or take them to the zoo or the museum. If something (including kids’ toys /sportsgear /electronic equipment etc.) gets broken or needs repair, Dad’s the one to turn to. He does consider disciplining his kids as one of his sacred fatherly duties. Sometimes, as a result of all this, he appears a bit aloof and authoritarian to his kids. He no doubt loves his kids, but is afraid to show much of that love for fear of appearing ‘unmanly’ or mushy.

Child reaching out for Dad


New Age Dad: He is a ‘hands-on’ dad. He likes to be involved in a baby’s life right from the moment it is conceived! He’s not ashamed to attend childbirth classes or hold Mom’s hand while she’s going through the ravaging pains of labour. He can change diapers effortlessly, can bathe a baby, can soothe a crying infant, can rock a baby to sleep in the middle of the night. He takes time out of his busy schedule to drive his daughter to dance-classes or cheer up his son on Sports day in school. He tries to learn about his kids’ favorite dishes and cooks them if or if not Mom is around. He is not afraid to shower kisses as he tucks his son to bed, nor afraid to shed tears along with his daughter while watching the evil witch put the princess through hardships – mushiness be damned! He is not just involved in most of the activities of his kids, but he actually misses those if he cannot be a part of them for some reason.  He is the modern-day dad who has come far from the days of ‘hunter-gatherer’ to ‘nurturer’ in the truest sense of the word. Thank God for such fathers who are increasing in their numbers day-by-day! Apart from actually giving birth to a child and breastfeeding, there’s almost no other job I could think of, that a New Age Dad can’t do. To borrow an old punchline from an ad,  he is ‘Neighbour’s Envy, Owner’s Pride’ 🙂

Dad soothing baby

               So if you are one of the New Age dads, take a bow! Chances are that most of you may have grown up in households where your own moms and dads never ventured out of their  traditional society-defines roles. It is not always easy to learn new things and unlearn old ones. But you yourself have not been afraid of being part of a change. Don’t ever change your way of thinking due to societal pressure. Here’s why(!)- You’ll get a lot more from life being a part of your family in the real sense. Kids grow up soon and before you know it, life will pass by and so will your kids head out the door for college, for jobs. You can have all the time in the world then to make money or play video-games or pursue your love for racing bikes (You can still sneak in time for these activities now, but may be just less amount of time than you would like to). But the time for setting up a good example of  being involved in your kids’ lives is now – when your kids are still young enough to observe you, listen to you and look up to you! And you will be bonding with your kids much better! Not to mention the amazing memories you’ll be making that both your kids and you will cherish for the rest of your lives.

              But what if you are one of the Traditional dads? Well, to you I say – It’s never too late to jump on the bandwagon! The reasons are again the same as above. You need not do all the things at once, but can certainly lend a hand or two to Mom in caring for her baby. Soon you’ll start enjoying the activities fully and the biggest reward is the better bonding you’ll have with your kids. The thinking that Moms are better instinctively at anything to do with children is a myth. Ask any Moms around you and you’ll hear stories of things they have goofed up with kids but never cared to tell you 🙂 Ask any new Mom and chances are that she’s trying to learn things as they come to a pass.

               So enjoy the ride and you’ll end up richer and fuller for the experiences you’ll have… A Happy Father’s Day to you, Dad!

Raising multilingual kids in the US – III

               As in other things in a marriage, one of the key indicators of success in raising multilingual kids jointly is agreement between you and your spouse on the expectations. A friend of mine said that he would be really upset if his wife and daughter conversed in a language he didn’t understand. I completely understand this kind of feeling. I would have been feeling left out too, but only initially. If I had been in such a situation, I’m sure I would have picked up at least a bit of my spousal language after marriage, and not wait for the kids to happen to do that. Thankfully, my husband can follow most of the Bangla we speak, though we speak to each other primarily in Hindi. But he fully supported my decision that I should be able to converse in Bangla with the kids.

               Recent research shows that – During the first 6 months of life, babies have the ability to babble using sounds that make up all the languages in the world. They then learn to talk using only the sounds and words they pick up from their surroundings, most importantly from their caregivers. A baby’s brain will then slowly discard the ability to speak in languages he or she does not hear. Children need to be exposed to a different language for at least 30 percent of their waking hours to become multilingual.

The rest of the post is in the form of bullet-points that I intend to use as a resource later on – the things that I found most important for raising multilingual kids:

  • Decide on the expectations for each language – There are 4 stages of language skills : Understand/ Speak/ Read/ Write.  Set realistic expectations on what you want your child to be able to do in each language. We thought that if our son could follow, speak and read Bangla and Hindi, that was more than enough. Of course, we expect him to be able to do all the four in English in future.
  • Decide on the language system – You can use One Person One Language (OPOL) or Minority Language at Home or Immersion Program. Basically, we used a combination of the first 2 strategies. I would only converse with my son in Bangla; while my husband and in-laws would only converse with him in Hindi. Also, we made sure that we spoke no English at home initially, though we played English rhymes, songs and DVDs for him to watch and enjoy. We did speak English to him in front of neighbours or in other public places where the Majority language is at play, but overall our focus was only on the Minority languages – Bangla and Hindi.
  • Common words – Chances are that there will be a lot of words common between the different languages you are teaching your child. Start using those initially. e.g. I used the word ‘khatam‘  (i.e. ‘Finished’ or ‘All done’ in English), which is a common word between Bangla and Hindi. Later when my son started speaking this word himself and I was sure he knew what it meant, I started using the other common word for it – ‘shesh’ – gradually in Bangla sentences, like তোমার গান শোনা কি শেষ হয়ে গেছে? (‘Tomar gaan shona ki shesh hoye gechhe?‘ i.e. ‘Are you all done listening to music?’). A lot of nouns like car, train, pen, microwave, computer, diaper, high-chair  will be the same in Bangla, Hindi or English. Of course, you are free to teach the word ‘ लौहपथगामिनी’ (louha-patha-gaamini) for a train if you want to stick to pure Hindi. 😉 But as I said earlier, it depends on the expectations you set for yourselves.
  • Labelling – Most kids start expressing curiosity at the world around them by pointing or bringing the object to you. I started telling mine the names(e.g. truck, spoon, paper, shirt etc.), colours/ sizes (e.g. It’s a biiiiiiig red-colored bus! Such a tiny ant!) of the things around them in Bangla first. And my husband would do the same in Hindi when he was playing with them. We would also add ‘In English, we call it spoon’ sometimes. But mostly we kept telling him everything in Bangla and Hindi first. Soon it became a habit with my son to ask us back ‘What is this called in Hindi?’ or ‘How do we say this in English?’ 
  • Materials – Get relevant materials in  forms of nursery rhymes books, DVDs, audio CDs in the languages you want your child to learn. We got some and intend to keep buying these age-appropriate ones from time to time. There are numerous youtube videos on teaching Hindi/ Bangla and we have been using many such as: Jataka tales, Panchatantra, Hindi Aksharmala, Moral stories, Baal-Ganesh, Chhota Bheem, SriKrishna, Nonte-Fonte, Gopal Bhaar, Haanda-Bhonda, Aabol-tabol, Haanshi-Rashi and last, but not the least – the Amar Chitra Katha series.
  • Support – Don’t feel shy stating your intentions of teaching your child your mothertongue and requesting your grandparents/ friends/relatives to converse in Hindi or your native-language if they are speaking in English to your child. Some of you may disagree with this. But the fact is that even listening to a group of adults conversing in a language such as Hindi will be a very useful experience for your child. Or being asked questions by parents’ friends in Hindi sends out the message to your child that it is okay to respond in this language; that it is not just his parents who use this particular language. In short, it can be a good motivator. Also, if you get a daycare  or nanny or playgroup which also speaks your language, all the better.
  • Start now – As they say – शुभस्य शीघ्रं | (‘Shubhasya Sheeghram’, The earlier you start a good task, the better it is). This is particularly true in case of language-learning. Between 1 and 3 years of age, when the brain is still being wired for language-learning, it is most effective to start a set of 2 to 3 languages around the same time. No need to worry about your little one not being able to handle it. The truth is that their brains will eventually sort it all out.
  • Correct gently – When your child is still learning to talk in a language, initially it is ok not to focus on the grammar. He/she will sort it out with time, if you correct gently. Finding faults with their speech early might shut them off from speaking that particular language, especially if the kid is a bit shy one.
  • Find your child’s interest – This I believe is the most important thing while teaching your son or daughter a language. My son would get all excited whenever he spotted an aeroplane or helicopter in the sky. In general, like a typical boy, he was always interested in all kinds of vehicles. And expectedly, most of his initial vocabulary consisted of these kinds of words – blue car, yellow bus, pickup truck, fire-engine,aeroplane, rocket, dhuaan i.e. smoke in Hindi) and I could go on and on. Similarly, the game of bubble-making would excite him to no end as he ran after them and his first word (after Mammi-Papa) was bubbles. If your little one is interested in animals, play with her while making sounds of different animals. Chances are that she will start saying doggy, duckie, birdie, quack-quack etc. excitedly whenever she spots one, even if it is as a picture in a book.
  • Constant reinforcement – It is important not to give up when things don’t seem to progress much, but one should keep on interacting with the kids using the native languages and other relevant material.

            You might ask – What’s the downside of raising a multilingual kid in an English-majority country like US ? Not many, I would say…In any case, the benefits far outweigh any concerns we may have. But still, it is good to have realistic expectations. Firstly, your child may start her speech a little later than her monolingual peers. But when she speaks, it will be in 2 languages or more! Secondly, the socialization part may get delayed too initially. I have heard of cases when a child knowing only the mother-tongue had problems initially in a daycare/preschool with a different language of communication. But again, this is a temporary problem. My son picked up good English with reasonably good grammar within 2 months at the preschool, but he could communicate with his teachers and class-friends right from day 1.  Don’t ask me how! 🙂 Kids find their ways to fulfill their emotional and social needs. Thirdly, your child may have slight or heavy American accent while speaking Hindi or Bangla or any other language. But in my opinion, speaking Hindi in a slight American accent is far better than speaking or understanding no Hindi at all.

               Between the time of my last post in Part 2 of this series and this one, we made a trip to India. I remember our last trip to India in 2010 when Advik was just 2 years old. He couldn’t speak any language at that time. Some of the suggestions mentioned at the beginning of Part 1 came from well-meaning relatives back in India during that trip. One of my cousins told the horror-story of a boy who was not speaking even at 4 years of age and his parents had to quit their jobs in the USA and return to India for his treatment. Listening to all such stories, any desi parent in US would despair. But this year’s India trip was vastly different. It was great seeing my son take part in and enjoy all the activities in and around family, friends and relatives; he could really interact well with kids his age. My relatives, on their part, were amazed to see him speaking in their languages and following everything that was going on.

               Raising a multilingual kid in a foreign country, has both its own pitfalls and rewards. But then who said parenting is an easy task? Our journey has just started and I know it is a long way to go. But then I’m not complaining…..and neither would you! 😉

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.

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…