One of the things I had not planned for during my pregnancy days was what language I would speak to the new baby that was to arrive. I was ready with everything else – diapers, clothes, blankets, toys, books, knowing that I will breastfeed him, adopt the no medication routine etc. But language was something that I did not think well and hard enough about.
Sure enough when babyT was here, speaking to him in my mother tongue – konkani came naturally to me. I myself did not speak konkani too much. English was the predominant language at my maternal home. However speaking to babyT in this language was something that just stemmed from my mothering I suppose. Daddy and his side of the family all spoke to babyT in Marathi and all the books we read were English. I did chance upon a lot of articles online and saw a few examples in our social circle, that children born in multilingual homes spoke later in life and their language was a mixed up hotch potch of all the languages. This did not really worry or stress me out, but I was concerned if we were actually all just confusing the poor baby.
To my surprise, this little tyke has been an early speaker. I think he said daddah around the 8th month and from then on he added a lot of new words slowly but surely to his vocabulary. In fact before he touched 16 months (he turned 16 mos today) he had begun to make 2 word sentences too. He was able to mostly understand what we would communicate in Marathi or Konkani long before his first birthday. He understands konkani completely for sure as I am around him 24/7. Marathi not so much, because the only permanent source of Marathi in babyT’s life, his daddah has to go work and earn the daily bread. Yet all my fears that babies in multilingual environments speak late were all shooed away quickly.
Some things that worked well for us I think –
- Konkani and Marathi are not too different from each other. This worked in our favour somewhere. You may have a far more culturally diverse household. Don’t be afraid to attempt to speak in all languages to the child.
- We spoke to him a LOT. I in Konkani, daddah in Marathi and books were read in English.
- We did not introduce him to any other languages – by way of nanny, TV or books. Songs in Hindi yes, but they were a one off.
- One person, one language – I only spoke in Konkani or English. Daddah only in Marathi. My parents only in Konkani and babyT’s paternal grandparents only in Marathi. We didn’t confuse him by the individuals speaking in a different language.
- We included a lot of songs and singing and rhymes in the 3 languages.
- I spoke in Konkani and then repeated it in English. I translated books from English into Konkani when reading. Added daily life examples wherever relevant – opened up dried seed pods to show the seeds within and spoke of elements from the story The Tiny Seed.
- Flash cards were introduced around 6 months age and I did not stick to the expected norm of marathon flashing, repeating or using the language as it was printed on the card. In our multi-lingual home we use words which are Marathi, Konkani and English. But we usually stick to only one word per object. Crows are Kailloh (Konkani), Apple is in English and Brinjals are vaangi (Marathi)
- We don’t give him the feeling that we are teaching him something and nor do we carry the cross that we had to teach him our language. All our communication was a natural element of our environment.
- There may come a time when babyT starts mixing the languages. But this really is a natural element of learning. Don’t we also speak by mixing Hindi – English and our local languages? The point is not to stress over it when it happens and not to pressure the child into falling back into line.
- Above all remember that every child is different. Every environment is unique, just as you the parent and caregiver are unique. Each child develops at their own pace. Don’t get into comparison mode. While milestones are important, it is important not to stress over them. Continue to provide inspiration, sense of wonder and give them lots of opportunities to speak. They will surprise you when their time to shine comes. 🙂 Where real concerns exist do discuss it with child’s pediatrician at their regular check ups.
Learning comes naturally to babies and children. In fact they are at their peak till the age of 5. Expose them to all types of languages, experiences and positive habits. You will do them a lot of good.