Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Learning to speak in English...

We are a nation obsessed with English. We are a nation obsessed with getting our kids to speak English, correct grammar and all, right from the beginning (yeah I swear on that by my Wren and Martin).
An English-medium education is what we all crave for our kids -- everyone wants it for their kids -- from the household help, the vegetable seller, the dhobi, your neighbour, YOURSELF (myself included), your neighbour, your cousins in small towns and villages. I'm not looking down upon anyone here, just saying that it's a universal aspiration.
There is pride and joy on our iron-man's face when he reminds me (each time i ask him how his daughters are doing) "Nan makkalu English-medium nalli odtaavre" (My kids study in English medium).

And I haven't been left behind either. I've joined the rat race too, in complete rat-like earnestness to get Sonny to understand some English before he takes those giant steps to "big boy's school" next academic year.

Honestly I hadn't realised how soon it begins till one day we were in an argument, Sonny and I, about some random thing. We were as usual talking in Kannada, our mother tongue. Then, in frustration, i cant remember on what issue, I screamed in English: "Where do you want me to be?" After a moment of silence he said "Here, at home." I was shocked.
a) I hadn't expected a reply to my rhetorical question
b) I hadn't expected him to really understand my question
c) I hadn't expected a reply in English.
d) I hadn't expected a completely coherent phrase/sentence.

It was then that it struck me that he'd told me a few days ago, some time post the Dasara vacation that his playhome teachers had been telling them all to converse in school only in English. So now it's "I want water" (of course, "please" is still a difficult word in his world). A sharp "Yah" (with a stress on the "h" sound) or a vehement head-nodding "No" to my questions. Sometimes a simple "Nice, I like" when he likes a dress I'm wearing. He's able to understand most of the questions I ask him in English. Sometimes replies in English, sometimes in Kannada, sometimes a mix of both languages...

I have a really failing memory, but what prompted me to write this post was a conversation I had last night with him, both of us sitting on the sofa, he was tracing lines on a work sheet his teacher had given. I wish I had immediately jotted it down then, but we spoke some four sentences, back and forth, Q and A, in complete coherence. I was quite amused...and well, happy.

I know of many Indian parents who straight away start talking to their kids in English only, since the child is born, so he/she picks up English well and early. I also know equally well of so many parents (like me and hubby) who insist on talking to the child only in our mother tongue at home, knowing that they will pick up English in school later anyway. And that they must know the language spoken by the family quite well.

We recently had some of hubby's guests from overseas home for dinner. After chatting them up with a few "Yah"s and "No"s he came beaming to me and said "Amma naanu avara jothey English-nalli maataadta iddeeni, with a twinkle in his eyes. (Mummy, I'm talking to them in English.) It's not like we've ever asked him to talk to anyone in English, but when we lapse into it in conversations at home, he joins us. I mean, I've had a really aggressive aunt of mine, a teacher, who has always insisted on speaking to him in English whenever she visited -- earlier he would look at her agog, wide eyed, but never understanding a word. I used to love watching them together.

I must also mention that Sonny's English has hit a high with his watching very seriously this channel called Cbeebies -- the BBC's children's channel. Saying he's addicted is an understatement. I like the channel too because there are no advertisements, the programmes are really short, and are really targeted at the pre-school age  group (at least most of those he likes watching).  Moreover, all these programmes have some form of learning woven into them -- concepts of colour, shapes, names of animals etc. There's also a show called "I can cook" which my Sonny watches like he's seriously gonna make the dish next at home! Many of the sentences are enunciated slowly, and I have often caught repeating these short sentences like "He has gone to bed", or "The sun has set" as he watches the show.


Uma said...

hey when is this prog aired on cbeebies any idea?..sounds interesting..
I had written a post on this English speaking obsession a while ago..I share your views..
happy to hear sonny boy's progress..

Garima said...

I can understand the craze for English if you will. Its an international language. and the world is truly global. English connecting it all.
Living outside of INdia has enforced English being the primary language for us as well. And since V has been going to school since 9 months, she takes on English as fishes to water. Much to our dismay. We have now started talking more in Hindi consiously... but to no avail.. With her grand parents around its easier.

Sahana Rao said...

That is an important milestone now. Learning more than one language is a good thing actually.

Aparna said...

Isn't it amazing when they pick up a new skill like this? I'm sure you'll notice English usage increasing (at the detriment of kannada) in the next couple of years. But the foundation you have laid for him will serve him well.

Aparna said...

Forever Mother - your post brought back memories of D first starting school and me being so worried that she understood very little english... give it 2 months and lo and behold she would talk ONLY in english !!!! Same thing with S - he would talk such wonderful tamil - and one month after starting school - whooosh out the window :(.

I still insist on talking to them a lot in tamil, and slowly seeing signs of atleast a word here and there coming back :). Although weirdly enough - I am one of those who "think" in english - but can still read,write my mother tongue and feel very close to it :)

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