I was at my daughter’s tennis practice and got talking to another parent while we waited for the kids. She was an Indian lady who like me was an immigrant and was raising young kids in the US. We talked about everything from managing schedules, to work-life balance and extracurricular activities.
While talking about extracurricular activities, she mentioned how their son had language classes for 3 hours every Sunday! Alas! That completely got my attention. Apparently, she was also one of their teachers!
So, we got talking; I told her how challenging it is from people from the African culture, to pass on their language to their kids, and how even when we try the kids may end up understanding but not speaking the language. I needed to know how her community was so good at propagating their local languages to their kids.
The insights I got were so simple-
Intentional Learning – The language camp is an intentional effort to get the kids to learn. She mentioned that they have classes by age and their kids even took exams!
Community effort – Her community makes a conscious concerted effort to come together every weekend to intermingle among each other. And while they are at these gatherings they speak their languages. She mentioned that even though India had over 50 different languages, when larger groups who spoke different languages met, they would speak the national language of Hindi at these social gatherings. And some who spoke the same other native languages would speak to each other in their languages.
Smaller groups and playdates – she happened to speak the Marathi Language from the west of India. She had a group of friends who spoke Marathi, and they would have weekly potlucks. Where kids will interact and mingle with each other. “We always have an activity every weekend she said, and the kids love to see kids like them. They get to practice with each other when they are together”.
Finally, when the grandparents and older folks in the community visit or stay over at their home, the kids get even more practice. The grandparents don’t speak English to the kids; they speak their native language!
It didn’t seem like rocket science to me! It was simple. The crux of it was, expose them to the language as often as you can and in as many ways as you can. But it has to be intentional!
I was excited! Oodles of Fun is on the right path I think…. but we have a lot to do still.
And sure enough, as the kids ran back towards us to get a drink of water, I noticed the boy speaking in their language to her! J