Monday, April 18, 2005

Language Amnesia

J's native language skills are retrogressing rapidly. I find myself slipping into English to preserve continuity in our conversation and chide myself for falling into that trap. I have seen legions of Indian kids born and raised in this country completely unfamiliar with their native language. A sad thing considering many of these kids are so bright and articulate. It is as much their loss as it is for the future of the language itself.

Ms K at J's daycare and I were having a chat about how children from other ethnicities seem to fare much better with their native languages than Indian kids do. We were both drawing from past experience and examples around us. Ms K believes that children go through a phase that may last up to a few years when they feel self-conscious about speaking in a language that their peers do not.

Possibly Indian parents bail out at the time and start speaking to the child in English. If this continues for a while, a significant gap results between the child's maturity of expression in English and that in their native language. No child wants to return to a childhood lisp when they are fluent in the language they use most. The resistance to learn at that point is too much to break down.

Her advice to me was to keep talking my language with J until she responded in kind - almost reflexively. One idea that I particularly liked was to tell J "Let's play a game where you and I don't understand English all Sunday". While I have not tried it yet , J is likely to be receptive to this one. Whether the game will have the desired effect is quite another thing.

The first week of the exercise was hard on me and the lack of incentive did not help. At the end of week two J was curious to know the names of different colors in our language. Lately, when I tell her it makes me sad that she does not speak our language she will recite the numbers one to ten, throw in a couple of colors while she is at it saying "Look Mommy now I do" in her perfect Southernese.

While I am not about to give up, I wonder how many years Ms K had in mind when she started me on this Quixotic mission.


Priyamvada_K said...

Thanks for telling me about this "phase" thing. I am dealing with this too, and insistently speak my language at home. She speaks in English, and I answer in Tamil, and keep asking her to speak it (to her annoyance sometimes). Hope my little one continues to speak it...


Heartcrossings said...

Priya - keep working on it :-) Ms K tells me success will be ours in the end. I will believe her.