As you are reading this article, I can safely assume that you are multilingual. I can say this with confidence because only a tiny per cent of Indians have English as their mother tongue. Due to our adoption of trilingual system, all educated folks speak two languages with good fluency and one or two more at passable level. Add to that our love of all things ancient and foreign and we have Sanskrit, German, French, Spanish and even Mandarin as languages to be learnt.
This is bewildering for North Americans and most Europeans who are brought up on staple diet of one language. There are advantages of getting your education in mother tongue–early and excellent language acquisition, better communication skills and better exposure to literature- classic and contemporary. Multilingualism has its own advantages like exposure to different cultures, better lateral thinking and a better chance of professional success. All these claims are not entirely proven yet.
Most advantageous state is called ‘cradle bilingualism’ where a baby has two caretakers speaking two different languages. This child, brought up with two languages as primary languages has significant benefits in executive functioning of prefrontal lobe (seat of intelligence and self control).
At ground level, we live in a world where increasing number of children are now educated in CBSE or ICSE schools. Both these systems invest in three languages and at least two of these are non-mother tongue languages for the child. Picking up a language at street conversation level is child’s play and kids do that with no effort at all. When it comes to learning grammar and “educational” version of language, all hell breaks loose. Only 20 per cent of us are naturally good at languages. For the remaining 80 per cent, it is torture. We spend almost 50 per cent of study and educational time on languages and this exhausts kids and families alike.
One can only imagine what pain education can be for most kids. A possible strategy to deal with this as parents is –
Parents must make an attempt to study languages with kids and speak with as much fluency as required by curriculum. This helps kids a lot as they have conversation companions at home.
While speaking, insist on using only one language at a time. Typical Indian way of mixing words from two languages in a single sentence damages language fluency and confuses grammatical structure in brain. This results in poor performance in all languages.
Allocate one day a week for each noncore language. On that day everyone at home should use only that one language for all conversations. This is shown to improve language skills significantly faster.
I know that this may be additional burden for parents, but then you will speak the same language as your child and isn’t that the basic purpose of language anyway?
The author is a practicing Child & Family Psychiatrist and a trained psychotherapist. Bhooshan has a private practice in Pune and his mission to make Indian psychological services more scientific, affordable and accesible using technology and human resource potentiation. Bhooshan lives in Pune with wife ( intensive Care Specialist) and two daughters. Bhooshan is an occasional blogger ( www.childpsychiatrypune.com) and works to prevent childhood sex abuse as personal social responsibility.