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5 Things I did to Teach 3 Languages to My Preschooler

In my previous post, I had talked about my struggles with brushing up my Hindi as an adult. Now I am "familiar" with more than 10 languages, including some international languages, and my Hindi has improved considerably. I also taught my then homeschooled child English, Hindi and Bangla (spoken, reading and writing) before she was 5 years old. My forays into languages have provided me with some wisdom in hindsight regarding teaching Hindi to children whose native languages are very different from Hindi.

UPDATE: My child is now 12 years old, and had taken up Sanskrit as a second language 3 years ago. So, now she speaks 4 languages. I believe she excels both at Sanskrit and English because of her multi-lingual upbringing.

If you are a non-Hindi speaking family, live in a non Hindi speaking place where your child is not exposed to good Hindi in daily life, and your child is not too keen on Hindi TV programs, then you will find that often the school Hindi teaching strategy is just not effective for second (or third) language acquisition. Needless to say, to help your child, you will need to step up and brush up your own Hindi. You can go through all my posts on Hindi learning, I have shared a lot of tips for parents in those.

These are a few things I did with my child I found very helpful to develop strong foundations for Hindi language learning.

1. Use phonetic basics in all languages

Not just English phonics, but also the phonetic basis of the Hindi alphabet. Don't worry that telling the child about the type of the letter (the phonetic class for example) is overloading them with information beyond their age. They take everything in stride, if offered in an enjoyable way. Just don't insist on them "memorizing" it. If you repeat it each time, it gets internalized, like an instruction. When they find underlying rational reasons, they are more likely to learn in a deeper way.

For example, if each time you say, "This is a ball, we play with it, or we kick it like this", you are not only teaching the word 'ball', you are also teaching the word 'kick' or 'play'. It is not overloading the child. Instead, the child is making associations and the more the associations, the more broad and natural is the development of the vocabulary. Similarly, if you say, "This is प (pa). This is a lip letter. Look, I am saying it using my lips.", it does not overload the child. It helps them to mentally create a logic based classification system (that is the Panini's phonetic system of our Indian alphabets) and helps them to form a strong base of the Hindi alphabet that will help them in future (higher classes) too to understand many linguistic rules of Hindi and Sanskrit.

2. Use nouns in the context of sentences

This is important if Hindi is not spoken at your home, except for the purpose of teaching Hindi to your child.

When you show a bird to a child, and say, "Wo ek chiriya hai", the child learns that chiriya is the word for bird. But if you add, "Wo ek chhoti si chiriya hai", the child learns that the adjective gender that goes with chiriya is the feminine form, that is 'chhoti'.

So, using the correct gender adjectives, we have: 'chhoti chiriya', but 'chhota pakshi'. So you see, the two common words for bird have different genders.

For all languages which have a grammatical gender system where inanimate objects have arbitrary classes (masculine, feminine, common or neuter), be it Swedish or Hindi or German, it is impossible to memorize the gender or class of all the nouns. They are best remembered in context of the agreement of the verbs or adjectives, so when we make a mistake, it "does not sound right".

So to me, bari duniya (बड़ी दुनिया) sounds right, bara duniya (बड़ा दुनिया) sounds wrong. Until they hear these repeatedly and develop a feeling for the correctness of what they say and hear, they will make mistakes related to the agreement rules of gender and number. I have discussed about the Hindi grammatical gender system in my previous post.

3. Speak a lot, listen to audio books or watch TV shows

Interactive listening is crucial to learning a language. No matter how much bookish input is provided, a language is best learned as a hearing-repeating-speaking skill. Humans have been speaking for much longer duration than they have been writing, and the basis of a human language is the sounds of it. Speaking a language fluently and understanding when other speak it are different from the ability to read and write it in its script accurately or beautifully.

So expose the child to age appropriate Hindi content on Audible, TV or YouTube or Netflix. If you find any Hindi speaking play-date partners, make sure the child hears Hindi when playing with them.

4. Read a lot

I cannot emphasize this enough. Reading to a child every day is an excellent bonding activity and boosts their cognitive skills beyond compare.

Read Hindi stories to your kids, while explaining in your native language, and incrementally you will see the improvement in their confidence and interest. Then encourage your child to read small Hindi stories, many books are available for free online. You can find some great Hindi books for children (.pdf format) by signing up to our Subscriber's Page.  

5. Do not compartmentalize

Compartmentalizing languages, that is treating each language as a separate subject keeps a child from forming interconnections, which are the building blocks of learning. If a child grows up in a multi- or bi-lingual setting, the brain development itself is different, as shown by many research studies. You can easily find a huge body of research on that. My personal understanding of this in a practical and personal setting is that, when the early childhood brain has to process that the same object or concept can be denoted by two different sound systems with their different rules, there is a large amount of processing going on, and that expands the brain' processing capacity.

Children are supercomputers when it comes to languages before they are 10, in my opinion. From my observation of scores of language learners of all ages, I think after 10, there is a slightly reduced level for language learning capacity till 20. Again in the twenties, the capacity is a bit further reduced, and markedly so after 30, progressively diminishing after that.

If you want to brush up your own Hindi as an adult, here are some good English-based resources online that I found user-friendly:

I hope my experience will help you in teaching a second language to your child in the home setting. Do check out our Preschool Hindi Printable Worksheets to help you with Hindi teaching here.


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