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Kannada made compulsory in schools: how to teach non-native children

In this post, we discuss the issue of mandatory Kannada as first or second language in Karnataka schools and touch upon the neuroscientific basis of Third Language Acquisition in children and how teachers can improve their approach in teaching Kannada to non-native kids.



What is your mother tongue?

Did you ever stop to think how you learned your mother tongue? It feels it was automatic, right? 💯


Now, let us assume English is your second language. And then, if you speak a third language as well, try to recall how it was for you to learn a third language. For example, if you are Tamil, with exposure to English from school years, and then you learn Hindi later on. Now compare:

Being tutored in your mother tongue, to learn your mother tongue better,

Vs

Being tutored in English to learn better Hindi.


With that simple demonstration of the challenges faced in learning a third language, let us know a bit more about the thorny issue of compulsory Kannada in schools in Karnataka.


What is the issue?

In 2015, the Karnataka government introduced the Kannada Language Learning Act, mandating that Kannada be taught as a second language in all schools across the state. This applies to schools affiliated with all boards, including CBSE, ICSE, and state boards. The policy aims to promote the local language and culture among the state's diverse population.


This policy was implemented, albeit somewhat loosely in schools, allowing Kannada to be studied as third language in many schools. However, recently, the government has made it mandatory for Kannada to be taught as first or second language in Karnataka. Learning Kannada can help children integrate better into the local culture, promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion. Exposure to Kannada literature, traditions, and customs can enrich children's cultural understanding. However, it may be more of a State Identity issue for the government. Emphasizing Kannada reinforces the identity of Karnataka and ensures that all residents, including newcomers, contribute to and participate in the state's linguistic culture.


What is the problem in enforcing mandatory Kannada in schools?

However, there are many practical considerations to take into account in implementing such a mandate. Let us take the example of Bengaluru, the city which put Karnataka on the global map. Bengaluru, as a cosmopolitan city, attracts people from across India and the world. In the context of language and culture, for a person of one state to go to work in another state in India is just like being an "expat". The experiences and challenges are quite similar!


The large "expat" population argue that imposing Kannada might not accommodate the city's linguistic diversity and could marginalize them, the non-Kannada speakers.


Let us consider some challenges:

  • Multilingual Challenges: For families and children who already speak multiple languages, adding Kannada as a mandatory subject can be a significant burden to manage.

  • Academic Pressure: Mandatory Kannada could increase academic pressure on students who are already coping with a rigorous curriculum.

  • Parental Concerns: Parents who do not speak Kannada may struggle to help their children with homework and studies, leading to additional stress and the need for extra tutoring.

  • Financial Burden: Families may face increased educational expenses due to the need for extra Kannada classes or tutoring.


What is happening now?

At the time of writing this article (June 2024), CBSE and ICSE schools in Karnataka are now required to teach Kannada either as a first or second language, a move that aims to integrate the local language more deeply into the education system. This policy shift has led to new rules for schools in Bengaluru, compelling them to adapt their curricula to comply with the mandate. Furthermore, the Kannada Development Authority has called for the withdrawal of an order on bilingual medium classes in government schools, emphasizing the need to prioritize Kannada.


How do you feel about the mandatory requirement for your child to learn Kannada as a first or second language in Karnataka schools?

  • 0%Very supportive

  • 0%Somewhat supportive

  • 0%Neutral

  • 0%Somewhat opposed


This mandatory inclusion of Kannada in school curricula have sparked significant debate and reactions among various stakeholders, but the government is continuing its push to make Kannada the main medium of instruction in schools. Karnataka's Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has appealed to Kannadigas to create a Kannada atmosphere in the state, while defending the cultural and linguistic importance of these policies. The Karnataka High Court recently denied a PIL seeking the mandatory use of Kannada in government correspondence, highlighting the ongoing legal discourse around the language mandate.


Who is affected and how?

While the state's efforts to promote Kannada is on, there is a need to consider the linguistically diverse population of Karnataka. What are the implications for families from other states living in Karnataka?


The first issue is related to educational adaptation. Schools must adjust their curricula to accommodate the mandatory Kannada classes. They need to provide good quality textbooks and resources for ensuring that children who are not native speakers can be at par with Kannadiga children. There might be a shortage of qualified and trained Kannada teachers, especially in schools that have not previously offered Kannada as a subject.


Second issue is related to non-native families. For children who come from non-Kannada speaking backgrounds, adapting to a new language can be challenging. This is especially true for low-income families who may not have the resources to provide additional language support. Also, it may not be feasible for every child to take up additional tuition due to time or location constraints. In addition, parents who are trying to find Kannada teachers for their children are facing challenges in finding teachers who understand how third language acquisition works for children. In fact, an important activity for many parents who move from other states to Bengaluru and whose children are in higher classes, is to try to find a school without Kannada in Bengaluru.


It is one thing to tutor a Kannadiga child to improve their Kannada, and quite a different matter altogether to teach Kannada to a non-native child.


What challenges, if any, has your child faced in learning Kannada as a new language?

  • Difficulty learning the language

  • Lack of good teachers

  • Lack of sufficient learning resources

  • Limited support at home

You can vote for more than one answer.



🌸Can English be ignored?

English is a global lingua franca, essential for higher education, international business, and technology. Proficiency in English is often a key determinant of career success in a globalized world. Many educational resources, including textbooks, scientific literature, and online courses, are predominantly available in English. Strong English skills can open up vast learning opportunities.


Learning Kannada can surely help children integrate better into the local culture, promoting social cohesion and a sense of belonging. It also promotes respect and understanding of local traditions and history. Multilingualism has cognitive benefits that can enhance overall intellectual abilities, potentially outweighing the initial challenges, especially for younger children. However, the emphasis on Kannada has to be backed up by robust, evidence-based approaches in schools to ensure that non-native and native kids have a level playing field. Policymakers also need to ensure that the introduction of Kannada does not compromise the quality of English education.


📌Neuroscience of Third Language Acquisition

Let us understand a bit about learning languages, and how it happens in the brain. Without understanding this, we cannot understand the challenges related to its and the possible solutions to those challenges.


Third language acquisition (TLA) involves learning an additional language after already acquiring a first (L1) and second (L2) language. This process is complex and engages various brain regions and cognitive functions, influenced by factors such as age, linguistic background, and the similarity between the languages.


🌼Key Neuroscientific Insights

Is there an age for language learning?

Yes, the sooner the better. This is related to Brain Plasticity and Age.

  • Critical Period Hypothesis: Younger children have more neuroplasticity, meaning their brains are more adaptable to learning new languages. However, this plasticity decreases with age.

  • Sensitive Periods: Specific periods in early childhood are crucial for language learning. During these times, the brain is particularly receptive to linguistic input, making it easier for children to pick up new languages.


Thus, while it easier for the non-native kids from other states to learn Kannada with proper instructional methods, the same cannot be necessarily true for their parents who are older and also don't have any adult language classes.


Is it easy to learn a third language?

This is related to Cognitive Load and Transfer.

  • Cognitive Load: Learning a third language can impose a high cognitive load, particularly if the languages are dissimilar. The brain must manage and differentiate between multiple linguistic systems.

  • Transfer Effects: Skills from L1 and L2 can transfer to L3. For instance, grammatical structures or vocabulary in L2 can aid in learning L3 if they are similar.


Can everyone learn new languages easily?

No. Individual differences in language acquisition can be influenced by various factors:

  • Cognitive Abilities: Memory, attention span, and problem-solving skills play a significant role.

  • Gender: Girls tend to develop language skills earlier than boys during childhood, with stronger vocabulary and better verbal memory. Also, women often excel in verbal communication and social language use, possibly due to socialization. In educational settings, girls often perform better in language subjects, according to some studies.

  • Age: Younger children often learn languages more easily due to greater neural plasticity.

  • Motivation and Attitude: Interest in the language and positive attitudes can enhance learning.

  • Exposure and Practice: Frequent exposure and opportunities to practice the language improve proficiency.

  • Learning Environment: Supportive and immersive environments facilitate better language learning.

  • Innate Talent: Some people are more innately talented at learning languages, which can be attributed to genetic traits, phonetic sensitivity, linguistic memory, superior pattern recognition and neural plasticity.


Thus, Telugu children might find it easier to learn Kannada due to the similarities between the two languages. Children find it easier to learn multiple languages, while the same is not true for most adults.


What it means in practical terms

From the point of view of adult expats living in Bengaluru, the approach appears coercive, echoing an exclusionary mindset that prioritizes local identity over inclusivity. The Chief Minister speaks of emulating Tamil Nadu for enforcing mandatory Kannada, which is a poor logic for doing so, in my opinion. A diktat from the government itself promotes "us" and "them" mindset in local people, who start viewing their own countrymates from other states as undesirable aliens. The cosmopolitan, multicultural, and multilingual culture of one city in a state cannot extinguish the whole state's culture, language, or identity.


Anywhere you live, it makes practical sense, above all, to know the local language. This is emphasized in many foreign countries too, and ample resources are made available for adult expats to learn the local language. However, in India, in metro cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, you can survive with English or Hindi, regardless of the state language. This flexibility is true for both foreign and other state expats. Millions of expats come to Bengaluru for short term stays. Many move there when their children are already in higher classes, when suddenly switching to a new language is academically detrimental. Most adults work in diverse environments where English is used predominantly, or English and Hindi. It is often not feasible for them to learn a new language over and above the two or three they already know, while being in their late 20's, 30's or even more. Therefore, to them, the heavy-handed push from the government reeks of regionalism and separatism, raising concerns about the necessity and implementation of such a policy.


What kind of support would you find most helpful in assisting your child with learning Kannada?

  • Affordable access to additional tutoring services

  • Availability of bilingual learning materials

  • Workshops for parents to help with language support

  • More classroom hours dedicated to language practice



The government can only make the policy, it has to be finally brought to fruition by educators and parents. If the schools want all the children to learn Kannada well, develop solid language foundation and perform well academically, they have to do better than what they are doing now in the name of teaching Kannada.


Teaching alphabet, word lists, and then jumping to stories with questions and answers is not going to teach any child a third language in an effective way. Here are our suggestions based on solid pedagogical and neuro-psychological concepts for teaching Kannada effectively to children.


👉How to Teach Kannada to Non-Native Students: Instructional Approaches for Third Language Learning


Tips for Schools & Teachers


NOTE: Even if the government makes Kannada the 'first language' at a school, for a Gujarati child who speaks Gujarati at home, is learning English from age 3 and is exposed to English on the TV and in the society, Kannada is a "third language" for their brain.

Teaching Kannada as a third language to children who speak a different language at home requires specialized instructional strategies to address the unique challenges of TLA.


A. Contextual Learning:

Immersive Environment & Cultural Integration

Providing an immersive environment where Kannada is used contextually helps children associate words and phrases with their meanings through real-life experiences. I cannot stress enough the importance of immersive approaches in language learning. Integrating cultural elements of Karnataka can make learning Kannada more relevant and engaging.


Immersive Environment in the Classroom

Language-Rich Environment:

  • Labeling: Use Kannada labels for common objects around the classroom. For example, label the door (ಬಾಗಿಲು), window (ಕಿಟಕಿ), and desk (ಮೇಜು) with their Kannada names.

  • Displays and Posters: Decorate the classroom with posters that include Kannada vocabulary, phrases, and cultural references. Visual aids can reinforce learning and make the environment stimulating.


Interactive Lessons:

  • Storytelling: Incorporate Kannada stories and folktales into the curriculum. Use expressive storytelling techniques to engage students and help them understand the narrative context.

  • Role-Playing: Conduct role-playing activities where students use Kannada to act out everyday scenarios, such as shopping at a market or ordering food in a restaurant. This helps them practice conversational skills in a fun and interactive way.


Daily Routine Integration:

  • Morning Meetings: Start the day with a morning meeting conducted in Kannada. Include simple greetings, sharing news, and discussing the day's schedule in Kannada.

  • Class Instructions: Give classroom instructions in Kannada. For instance, when transitioning between activities, use phrases like “ನೋಟ್‌ಬುಕ್ ತೆಗೆಯಿರಿ” (Open your notebook) or “ನಾನ್ನೊಂದಿಗೆ ಬನ್ನಿ” (Come with me).


Cultural Activities:

  • Festivals and Celebrations: Celebrate local festivals such as Kannada Rajyotsava and Sankranti in school. Organize cultural events where students can participate in Kannada songs, dances, and dramas.

  • Culinary Experiences: Integrate local cuisine by organizing cooking sessions where students learn about traditional dishes and their Kannada names.


Immersive Environment at Home

Home Teaching:

  • Learning Together: Encourage parents to learn basic Kannada along with their children. This shared learning experience can motivate children and provide them with a support system at home.

  • Language Practice: Parents can incorporate Kannada into daily conversations at home. Simple phrases like “ನಿನ್ನ ಹೆಸರೇನು?" (What is your name?) or “ಈದಿನ ಹೇಗಿತ್ತು?” (How was your day?) can be used regularly.


Real-Life Applications:

  • Outings and Activities: Take children to places where they can use Kannada in real-life situations, such as local markets. Encourage them to interact with vendors and locals using the language.

  • Family Activities: Engage in activities like cooking, shopping, or gardening and use Kannada to describe actions and objects. For instance, while cooking, parents can name ingredients in Kannada and describe the cooking process.


B. Scaffolded Instruction:

1. Gradual Introduction:

Introducing Kannada gradually and in manageable chunks helps prevent cognitive overload. Start with basic vocabulary and simple sentences before progressing to complex structures.


Start with Basic Vocabulary:

  • High-Frequency Words: Begin with common, everyday words that students are likely to encounter frequently, such as names of family members (ಅಮ್ಮ - mother, ಅಪ್ಪ - father), basic greetings (ನಮಸ್ಕಾರ - hello), and simple nouns (ಪುಸ್ತಕ - book, ಶಾಲೆ - school).

  • Visual Dictionary: Create a visual dictionary with pictures and corresponding Kannada words. This helps students associate words with images, reinforcing their memory.

Simple Sentences:

  • Sentence Structures: Introduce simple sentence structures, such as subject-verb-object (SVO). For example, “ನಾನು ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಓದುತ್ತಿದ್ದೇನೆ” (I am reading a book).

  • Daily Phrases: Teach practical phrases that students can use in daily conversations, such as “ನನಗೆ ನೀರು ಬೇಕು” (I need water) or “ಇದು ಯಾವುದು?” (What is this?).

Progressive Complexity:

  • Build on Basics: Once students are comfortable with basic vocabulary and simple sentences, gradually introduce more complex structures, such as tenses, conjunctions, and compound sentences.

  • Incremental Challenges: Present slightly more challenging tasks over time, like short paragraphs or dialogues, ensuring each step builds on what students have already learned.


2. Scaffolding Techniques:

Use visual aids, gestures, and bilingual resources to bridge the gap between the known languages (L1 and L2) and the new language (L3).


  • Visual Aids:

    • Flashcards: Use flashcards with images and corresponding Kannada words to reinforce vocabulary. Regular practice with flashcards can help with memorization and recall.

    • Charts and Diagrams: Create charts and diagrams that visually represent grammar rules, sentence structures, and vocabulary categories. Display these in the classroom for easy reference.


  • Gestures and Actions:

    • Body Language: Use gestures and body language to demonstrate the meaning of words and sentences. For example, act out verbs like “ನಿಲ್ಲು” (stand) or “ಕುಳಿತು” (sit).

    • Total Physical Response (TPR): Incorporate TPR activities where students physically act out words and phrases. This kinesthetic approach aids in language retention.


  • Use Bilingual Resources:

    • Books and Media: Provide children with access to Kannada educational videos. Watching Kannada cartoons or listening to Kannada songs can make learning enjoyable and reinforce language skills.

    • Apps and Games: Use language learning apps and games designed for children. These interactive tools can make learning Kannada fun and engaging, helping children practice vocabulary and grammar.

    • Bilingual Books: Provide books (storybooks, comics, etc.) that have text in both Kannada and the students’ native language or English. This helps students understand the context and meaning while gradually transitioning to Kannada. These books should be easily available in the school library and children should be encouraged to read them.

    • Recommended Books:


  • Dual-Language Labels: Label classroom objects in both Kannada and the students’ native language. This constant exposure helps reinforce vocabulary.

  • Interactive Tools:

    • Language Apps: Utilize language learning apps that offer interactive exercises, games, and quizzes in Kannada. These tools provide immediate feedback and make learning engaging. At the time of writing this article, good apps are non-existent. Better, child-friendly apps teaching Kannada are needed. Here is one Kannada learning app from the Google Play Store for grown-ups: Learn Kannada SmartApp

    • Multimedia Resources: Incorporate multimedia resources such as Kannada songs, videos, and cartoons. These can make learning enjoyable and provide listening practice.


C. Collaborative Learning:

  • Pair and Group Work: Encourage students to work in pairs or small groups to practice Kannada. Collaborative activities like role-plays, dialogues, and group projects can enhance language skills.

  • Peer Teaching: Allow more advanced students to help beginners. This peer teaching approach benefits both the learner and the helper by reinforcing their knowledge.

  • Peer Presentations: After learning a new topic, students prepare a short presentation or lesson to teach their peers. This reinforces their understanding and boosts confidence.


Example of collaborative learning ideas:

  • Scenario-Based Role-Playing: Create scenarios where students role-play using Kannada, such as shopping at a market or visiting a doctor. This promotes conversational skills and teamwork.

  • Collaborative Storytelling & Story Creation: Divide students into groups and have them create and narrate a story in Kannada. Each group can present their story to the class, enhancing creativity and language use.


Interactive Games

  • Language Vocabulary Bingo: Create bingo cards with Kannada words. Call out the words in English, and students mark the corresponding Kannada words. This reinforces vocabulary in a fun way.

  • Clue-Based Treasure Hunt: Organize a treasure hunt where clues are given in Kannada. Students work in teams to decipher the clues and find the treasure, promoting comprehension and collaboration.


D. Differentiated Instruction:

  1. Tailored Learning: It important to recognize that children come with different linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies. Whenever possible, differentiate instruction to cater to individual learning needs.

  2. Use of Technology: It can be useful to incorporate language learning apps and software that provide personalized learning experiences and immediate feedback. However, while such resources are easily found for English learning, it is difficult to find good resources for Kannada.


E. Interactive and Engaging Methods:

  1. Interactive Activities: Use games, songs, and storytelling to make learning Kannada fun and engaging. These methods also help reinforce language through repetition and context.

  2. Peer Learning: Encourage group activities and peer interactions where children can practice Kannada with their classmates, promoting social learning.


F. Parental Involvement:

Suggested School-Level Initiatives

  • Workshops for Parents: Offer workshops to help parents understand basic Kannada so they can support their children's learning at home. Schools can organize regular workshops, such as weekly or monthly sessions, focusing on different aspects of Kannada. These can be evening or weekend sessions to accommodate working parents. For the workshops, develop a curriculum that includes basic vocabulary, common phrases, simple grammar, and everyday conversation skills. Tailor the content to be relevant to what children are learning in school.

  • Interactive Sessions: Interactive activities and group discussions can make parents involved in learning Kannada. Create opportunities for parents to practice speaking Kannada with each other and with native speakers, if possible.

  • Handouts and Guides: Provide handouts, guides, and worksheets that parents can take home for additional practice.

  • Online Resources: Develop an online portal or use existing platforms where parents can access videos, audio lessons, and practice exercises.

  • Bilingual Communication: Provide bilingual resources and communication to ensure parents are involved in the learning process, even if they do not speak Kannada.

Suggested Parent-Level Initiatives

  • Organized Meetups: Parents can organize regular meetups over meetup.com or Facebook in local community centers, parks, or cafes where they can practice Kannada together. These meetups can be informal and focus on conversational practice.

  • Language Exchange: Create a language exchange program where parents who are native Kannada speakers pair up with those who are learning. This can foster community bonding and mutual support.

  • Social Media Groups: Create social media groups or messaging app groups where parents can share resources, ask questions, and practice Kannada. This can provide continuous support and motivation.

  • Virtual Workshops: Parents can come together and conduct virtual workshops and webinars for parents who cannot attend in person. Use video conferencing tools to facilitate interactive learning.


G. Regular Assessment and Feedback

Needless to say, assessments and constructive feedback are of paramount importance. Schools should conduct regular, low-stakes assessments to monitor progress and identify areas where students need more support. It is effective to use quizzes, oral tests, and written assignments. Teachers should provide specific, constructive feedback on students’ performance. They should highlight their strengths and gently correct their mistakes, offering suggestions for improvement.


We hope that we have been able to convey both the sides of the controversy. Our views are informed by our own experiences related to growing up in non-native states, life in Bengaluru, life in four EU countries, and the struggles of trying to teach new languages to non-native kids. We have tried to present suggestions that can markedly improve the current status of Kannada instruction in schools. We welcome discussions and input that can lead to better solutions to the problems our children are facing in third language acquisition. You can comment here or share your views on our Facebook Group.


 


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