It seems my son is learning Urdu. He claps to thali bajao, points to his kaan [ears] baal [hair], closes doors, turns off lights, all with Urdu commands. It seems things are moving well on the path to bilingualism but considering he’s primarily nonverbal, and raising a kid is a work in progress its hard to know when I can declare victory. When he’s 2? 5? 35? I know many of you reading are planning to teach [or are teaching] a second language so I thought I’d share what I’m doing now incase its helpful.
1. Focused Language. I have to be realistic. I speak to K, my friends, my brothers, in English. To try otherwise is forced. Regardless of how fluent Waleed becomes, English will be his stronger language because English is my stronger language [unless he chooses to pursue Urdu studies when he grows up, and then I can perhaps learn from him]. Instead of forcing a 100% Urdu-environment I simply speak English to him when its inconvenient not to and otherwise, I speak exclusively in Urdu. Our time at home, is 90% Urdu. It’s not always easy but the more I do it, the more natural it gets.
2. Engaging fluent speakers. If I want to teach him fluent Urdu- I need to hone my own skills.When I encounter fluent Urdu-speakers, we usually resort to speaking in English and its hard to mess with the status quo. I’m afraid I’ll mess up, that they’ll laugh at me, but I’m doing my best to overcome this and try my best to convince native-speakers to engage me in an Urdu-language conversation.
3. Reading stories. In both languages. I read English-language stories to Waleed in Urdu, while K reads the same stories in English. In this way he gets the the rhyme, meter and prose of how the book was intended, and the urdu-version as well.
4. Making an alphabet book. Most alphabet books give letters that correspond with pictures for that letter [duh]. And as awesome as ‘A is for apple’ alphabet books are, I’m making my own Urdu-English hybrid alphabet picture book where A is for atta [flour] and B is for bandar [monkey]. Imperfect but as perfect as it can get at this point.
While, I’ll definitely add to this list as I go along, the ultimate question is: will these measures work? I don’t know. It’s entirely possible five years hence, he’ll be speaking with a southern accent and think Urdu is the funny way mama speaks when she doesn’t want him to understand her.
Some think its great I’m trying to impart language. Some make fun of me. Some point out Urdu isn’t exactly Mandarin. It’s spoken by some but not all that important in the grander scheme. But it is. If I spoke Arabic, Finnish, Swahili, I would do all in my power to impart these too. As beautiful and rich as English is, if I can give my son the ability to speak another language, he’ll have another angle from which to view the world. I know its not important for everyone, and I respect that, but for me? It’s very important. It doesn’t mean I won’t fail. I might. Spectacularly. But if he doesn’t learn what was in my capacity to give him and what I want so passionately for him, I will see it for what it is without rationalization of any sort– my failure. I guess I’ll just try the best that I can.
No pressure or anything.
Any tips or ideas on teaching language to your kids?