While English has become a global language and a necessity for communication, it doesn't mean that other languages like Hindi have lost their relevance. Many parents are so focused on ensuring that their children learn English that they are failing to teach them their own mother tongue. Children are supercomputers (or better) when it comes to learning languages, if taught correctly. The first 2 decades of life are critical to language learning, and the first 6 years especially so for laying the foundations of language learning.
Is English is more important than the mother tongue?
We want our children to speak excellent English, but it is wrong to think that it must happen at the cost of learning other languages. Children can learn two, even three languages easily when they are in primary or middle school. In fact, learning Hindi or any other second language in today's world can bring a host of benefits and opportunities that cannot be found in English learning alone. In fact, the Indian National Curriculum Framework for the Foundational Stage (2022) that is being implemented at the time of writing this post, has emphasized the importance of exposing small children to multiple languages, including the mother tongue, from the beginning.
My personal experience
I live in a state where Hindi is not spoken. My child studies at a school where it is not compulsory to take Hindi as a language even in primary or middle classes. But I have taught Hindi as a part of home schooling in her early years, and later opted for having Hindi as a third language. My child is interested in Sanskrit and learns it as a second language. She wishes to continue learning it till junior high school. I believed that learning the Hindi alphabet and basics of its grammar, syntax and vocabulary will help her with learning Sanskrit as well. And now when I see her standard of Sanskrit, I know that I took the right decision back then. She speaks our mother tongue, Bengali at home, and knows reading and writing Bengali. And she is excellent at English as well. Learning good English is not prohibitive to learning Indian languages.
Is Hindi still relevant?
Short answer is, it is more relevant than ever!
As one of the official language of India, Hindi is spoken by over 600 million people globally. It is also the fourth most spoken language in the world, making it an important language to learn. But beyond the statistics, there are many reasons why learning Hindi is useful and relevant for children, especially those who live in India or are in Indian schools. Here are my reasons for encouraging my child to learn Hindi, along with some other reasons why learning Hindi can enhance a child's educational experience.
1. Cultural Enrichment:
Hindi is an important part of Indian culture and learning the language can help children connect with and appreciate the country's rich heritage. There is a huge body of wonderful literature in Hindi. It is also the language of Bollywood. I wanted to be able to share my favourite movies and poems with my child. I believe, by learning Hindi, children can develop a deeper understanding of Indian culture and its influence on the world.
Learning Hindi exposes children to diverse perspectives, ideas, and traditions, apart from their home culture, when they are from a different ethnic background. This exposure can broaden their worldview and enhance their creativity, as they learn to appreciate and understand different cultural nuances. I believe, growing up as an expat and with exposure to diverse ethnicities has enriched me in multiple ways. Moreover, by developing cultural sensitivity at an early age, children can become more empathetic and respectful towards people from various backgrounds, which is essential in today's multicultural society.
2. Improved Communication:
With Hindi being the official language of India, learning it can be a great asset for children who may travel to or work in India in the future. It can also help them communicate better with friends or family who speak Hindi as their first language. Being multilingual is also a valuable skill in today's globalized world.
3. Brain Development:
Learning a new language can enhance cognitive development, including memory retention and problem-solving skills. Studies have shown that bilingual individuals are better at multitasking and have improved cognitive flexibility. Not just Hindi, any second or third language learning can offer this enhanced brain development.
4. Foundation for Other Languages:
A large number of North Indian states speak Hindi and languages and dialects that a Hindi speaker can understand. Knowing a bit of Hindi can provide access to a person for a large part of India. Be it to understand what is written on the board in front of a shop to communicating with the auto-walla, it is handy to know local languages.
5. Career Opportunities:
India is a growing economy, and knowledge of Hindi can provide children with an advantage in job opportunities. It is also a language used in fields such as politics, journalism, and international relations. By learning Hindi, children can expand their career prospects and increase their chances of success in these fields.
6. Family Connection:
Many families speak Hindi as their first language, and learning it can help children connect with their heritage and communicate better with family members. It can also foster a sense of community and belonging.
7. Academic Advantage:
Sometimes the choice of the second language at school is also an important determinant for board exam scores. Compared to Hindi where scoring above 90% is tough, a student can easily hope to achieve 100% score in Sanskrit, making it a top choice for many students. If you plan to opt for Sanskrit as a high scoring 2nd language in junior high school (class 9 and 10) for your child, then the strong foundation of Hindi will come in handy.
Why is learning Hindi hard?
Even when parents want their children to learn Hindi, the material and systems available in the foundational years are substandard, leading the child from a non-Hindi speaking background to have a poor experience with Hindi learning.
Those children who are from Hindi speaking families have a completely different experience from the children who are not familiar with Hindi. The children are often not taught in a systematic manner focusing on the phonology, syntax and natural language learning mechanisms in the brain. Instead, the child is made to learn by rote a lot of things - alphabet, rules of grammar and vocabulary, which make the child find the subject tough.
At Playful Home Education, we believe in making learning fun and engaging. We offer resources and activities that can help children learn Hindi through play based techniques, audio support, and engaging stories. By making the learning experience enjoyable, children are more likely to retain what they have learned and develop a love for the language. If you would like to know more, check out our Hindi learning articles here and our Hindi learning products here.
Learning Hindi can be a valuable skill for children. Even if the first language at school is English, and the mother tongue is not Hindi, incorporating Hindi into a child's educational experience can help them develop a deeper understanding of the world and its diverse cultures.
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Suggested Reading (click to open)
https://www.idra.org/resource-center/brain-development-and-mastery-of-language-in-the-early-childhood-years/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164118/ https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/sep/04/what-happens-to-the-brain-language-learning https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2021.706672/full
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