Pay attention to all languages

Pay attention to all languages
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First Published: Fri, Nov 06 2009. 08 38 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Nov 06 2009. 08 38 PM IST
My son, who’s 8, has had a pretty easy time in school so far. He reads a lot, is very interested in subjects ranging from science to sports to history. The only stumbling block so far has been Hindi. It’s not his mother tongue, we don’t speak it at home, yet he has to study it in school. He gets by in conversation, but reading, and writing in particular, are proving to be a major chore. We’ve had to send him for tuitions since neither of us can teach him the language and, of late, he’s been having meltdowns before every tuition session. How do we communicate to him that it’s okay not to be good at everything?
Can I venture to say that a lot of families that don’t speak a particular language at home, but whose children learn it at school, tend to communicate to their children that it’s a nuisance to study, and they should just “somehow” pass till they can dump the language? I wonder if you’re doing that a little.
If so, I don’t think that’s right. It just becomes that much more difficult for the child to work with the language. He doesn’t have to be “good” at it, as you say, but that is not the point that you need to drive home to this child here. He needs to be competent and, really, having access to the national language can only be an asset. Moreover, from what you describe, it’s turning into a big stumbling block for him. So perhaps it is time to accept that the language has to be learnt, and learnt fairly well.
You say he has a problem with writing and reading, but not with speaking. That’s a good beginning in itself. Now, someone has to switch him on to how very easy and phonetic the script is actually. Western students who learn Hindi (and its Devnagari script) marvel at how easy it is to learn the alphabet and begin to read shop and road signs. Youneed to point this out to him—and make it appear easy and fun. And if you think about it, it’s a much kinder language in terms of spellings.
No doubt the content, as well as the way of teaching second languages in our schools, leaves much to be desired. A 10-year-old child who speaks English and Telugu at home, believe it or not, bed-wets the night before his Marathi and Hindi school days, and cannot speak a sentence after three years of these courses at school. Now, if that’s not traumatic language learning, I don’t know what is. He is too young to know that there’s nothing intrinsically horrid about these languages. So he talks about the time he can dump them and take German or French. As if those languages, somehow, are easier.
You would need to find ways for him (as well as the larger family) to a) accept that learning Hindi is not some “necessary evil”, b) realize that reading and writing it is not that difficult. Think up small games—get him to write out English words that he knows in the Hindi script, or the names of his favourite cartoon characters, and the like. You may find that this, along with the tuitions, will help him, as well as the family, to stop turning language learning into some punishment in his head.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 06 2009. 08 38 PM IST