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It's All Hindi...To Him?

It's All Hindi...To Him?

July 03, 2010

Is encouraging my son to respond to Hindi-only words selfish? Or educational?

Years ago, I read that each generation is smarter than the last. At the time, I thought I was hilarious, teasing my family about my apparent smarts. Now, though, I find myself hoping that my kidlet isn’t quite as hilarious me. So far, Mir understands three languages; I’m still working on one.

Although I’m not fluent in Hindi, it’s become an everyday part of my life. My lessons, fitted in as time and teething kidlet allow, coupled with my childhood vocabulary, are enough to get around in a sort of English-Hindi pidgin. Mir, at eleven and an half months, is already at English-Hindi pidgin level; there are some words and ideas he only responds to in Hindi. My mother and Joe's parents are a bit worried about this. My father thinks it's the best thing since jarred chillis.

For the most part, Mir’s trilingual (he also uses a few ASL signs) aspirations are a good thing. They push me to practice more, to string together more complex Hindi sentences and remember words that, until recently, I had little use for. It’s fun to play Where’s Mummy and Where’s Daddy in Hindi, to count up the stairs in Hindi and English, switching to English at 21, because I can never remember what comes after biis. But Mir’s languages also create a barrier, locking out my mother, Joe’s parents, and, to some extent, Joe, because there are some things--important things--baby only answers in Hindi.

Most of the time, Joe’s lack of Hindi vocabulary (he has amazing grammar skills) isn’t an issue. He knows all the big words: dud (milk); baccha (baby); bandar (monkey); kuta (dog); kya (what); and tum (familiar, you). Some words baby and I take for granted, such as ow (come) and jow (go), pani (water), and pani pio (drink water). Some mornings, my dear, sweet husband, left with baby while I run, is purplish and suffering conniptions from a mutual lack of understanding by the time I get back.

Does it matter that Joe and Mir have a little extra difficulty communicating? Long term, probably not--and it may even encourage Joe to practice his Hindi skills more. In the short term, though, I wonder if my continually using Hindi words alienates one from another. Communication, the baby books tell me, is the cornerstone of interacting and bonding with a child. If Mir is always looking to me for an explanation, will he learn to listen to only me? Will he talk less to his father and non-Hindi speaking family?

In my very limited experience, part of being a new mother--a large, very unenjoyable part--is carrying mummy guilt. I’m an expert at the mummy guilt, and I have the empty chocolate wrappers to prove it. (Even now, I’m sipping at its bitter cup, feeling neglectful as Joe feeds baby vegan sweet potato ravioli while I catch up on work.) Part of me labels my misgivings over our Hindi adventures as mummy guilt, assuaging my need to pass on some culture or ethnicity to the kidlet. After all, he’s part Indian, and I want him to be proud of it. I also want him to be comfortable in mixed rooms, able to speak to and understand his Indian family in a way I couldn’t. But am I pushing Hindi too much? Should I continue encouraging him by using Hindi instead of teaching him English equivalents? The word “educational” excuses all ills these days--is picking the easier, Hindi word just me being lazy, or is it actually educational? Possibly more to the point, how much of my need to teach baby Hindi is for his benefit, and how much of it is for mine?

As our trip to Australialooms, I often catch myself speaking more Hindi than usual, literally giving voice to my fear that my skills won’t be up to scratch by the time I’m speaking to the rest of my Indian family. But I also spend a lot of time making mental lists--food vocabulary, verbs, animals--all things I mean to write down on pretty little index cards and hand around, so we can all talk to baby. I’d love to say this is because I’m a sweet, selfless person, but I suspect it’s actually because I’m rather selfish: I don’t want to give up my Hindi time with Mir, so I’m making up ways to keep it. Perhaps I’ll spring for Hindi lessons for the family, and put the onus to keep up with baby on them. He speaks three languages. It shouldn’t be too hard for the rest of us to speak two...

11 Comments

  • suresh
    By
    suresh
    07.09.12 02:41 PM
    Dear all
    Greetings from Suresh,Chennai India. I teach Hindi on line. My Hindi lessons are regularly being published from USA in www.Ispeakhindi.com. This site contains more than 1400 Hindi lessons which includes 25% of my lessons ( 370). I was brought up in Bihar/at Ranchi now the capital of Jharkhand state for 30+ years. I studied in Hindi medium till graduation. I served a US NGO for 29 years in India,CIS and South Africa. My mother tongue is Tamil and I am settled in Chennai.

    with warm Regards,

    Suresh
    sskay56@gmail.com
    91 0 9840643690
  • Sunita Singh
    By
    Sunita Singh
    07.09.12 12:35 PM
    Hi Sheetal

    We provide Online Hindi learning, visit http://www.sunosunao.com/ - its a step by step learning and I think your baby's age is right to start.
  • Prianca Scott
    By
    Prianca Scott
    18.01.12 08:24 PM
    I have found PicSpeak from the iTunes store to be an interesting way to learn hindi.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/picspeak-english-hindi-talking/id493554034?mt=8
  • Krishna Bihari Yadav
    By
    Krishna Bihari Yadav
    23.09.11 08:43 AM
    Hi
    Interesting issue, and one I’m sure I shall grapple with when my partner and I eventually have kids.

    When you speak one language as a baby, and others don’t realise what you are saying, my own experience is that kids intuitively get this and revert to any other available languages.

    I have seen this in my brother, cousin and friends from other backgrounds (eg Chinese) in certain situations.

    I feel that the benefits for you, your family and your child’s identity will benefit in the longer term – even though there might be a bit of alienation in the short term amongst your partner and other grandparents.
  • Sham Kapil
    By
    Sham Kapil
    15.06.11 07:01 PM
    Watch Ramayan By Ramanand Sagar. Another benefit of Knowing Hindi.
    Read poems of Kabir, Surdass and many more great Sages.

    Hindi is derived from Sanskrit the language of Vedas.
  • suresh
    By
    suresh
    05.03.11 05:07 PM
    Dear all:

    I teach Hindi on line. If interested, please contact. You will find my lessons in www.Ispeakhindi.com. You may check youtube. Id is sskay56

    Suresh
    sskay56@gmail.com
    91 0 9840643690
  • Sheetal
    By
    Sheetal
    21.02.11 03:07 PM
    Hi.

    I am a south african indian who has a 3 year old daughter. I desperately want to teach my daughter hindi. However i donot speak or read/write the language. Please advice as to how i can teach her the language. I tried oredring some dvd's from the babyhindustani.com site but they took my money and havent posted me the dvd's.

    How can i teach her hindi?
  • AussieDesi
    By
    AussieDesi
    08.07.10 08:16 PM
    Hi
    Interesting issue, and one I'm sure I shall grapple with when my partner and I eventually have kids.

    When you speak one language as a baby, and others don't realise what you are saying, my own experience is that kids intuitively get this and revert to any other available languages.

    I have seen this in my brother, cousin and friends from other backgrounds (eg Chinese) in certain situations.

    I feel that the benefits for you, your family and your child's identity will benefit in the longer term - even though there might be a bit of alienation in the short term amongst your partner and other grandparents.

    They sound pretty understanding, though, so stick with it!
    :-)
  • Richa
    By
    Richa
    05.07.10 08:24 PM
    I appreciate that you have decided yo teach your kid Hindi, I see elite people in India don't talk much in hindi at home. I understand your problem completely. I was once watching a program long back ago in which the same problem was discussed. How to raise a child in multilingual family. It was said that kids are very fast in learning languages but need some space. I remember one expert said to divide the languages in a day. Each time, the person who can teach him that language should spend the time with him.
    I hope it helps.

    Cheers,
    Richa
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    03.07.10 09:00 PM
    Cultural reasons aside, it's a good idea to teach Mir hindi. It may prove to be a great asset at some point in his future career. Many "indigenous" Britsh people over here are enrolling their kids in classes to learn Hindi, Mandarin and Russsian. Countries like India, China and Russia will be considerably more influential and economically powerful in the next 20 years.
  • Gori Girl
    By
    Gori Girl
    03.07.10 08:42 PM
    I think it's fantastic that you're encouraging Mir to speak more than just English. He'll have an advantage over many, many other American born children, most of whom aren't exposed to a second language until high school, when our brains aren't as malleable as they were when they were Mir's own brain's age.

    As an eight year veteran of mommy guilt, I know how hard it will be to take this advice, but ... relax. Joe will pick up more Hindi and Mir will have a fluency between cultures that some of us can only dream of.

    The older Mir gets, the more able he will be to choose the proper language to respond to the individuals in his life with. Their brains are absolutely incredible at this age -- their personalities are still forming, their brains are so porous that they can absorb just about anything with an ease that we struggle to emulate for the rest of our lives.

    Don't be so hard on yourself. I think it's great that you're giving Mir multiple languages. I'm trying to learn Hindi myself, and it's slow going.

    On the other hand, my oldest kid is learning about the joys of blue language and I'm teaching her to curse in Hindi so she doesn't get in trouble at her school for using the English curses. Nobody else at her school speaks Hindi, so I don't have to worry about that, at any rate. LOL

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