Help your child develop language skills

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Neena Jacob

My kids had to deal with Marathi as a second language in Maharashtra, and the biggest bug bear was the gender! Why was ‘kurchi’ feminine? I asked my teachers and they said: “That skill you will only get with speaking and regular language use.” It made me wonder what I could do and subsequently if it worked I would be able to share it in school.

The first step was to get a dictionary – Marathi-Marathi-English – so that I not only got the meaning but also managed to develop my vocabulary when I learned a new word. Additionally, all the nouns were marked ‘m’, ‘f’ or ‘n’. Then we started using coloured charts where every masculine word went up on the blue chart and every feminine on a pink and the neuter gender ones on green. These charts were placed just above their study area so while dreaming or idling there was passive learning going on and wonder of wonders it worked.

The children learned their genders further reinforced by addition of ‘to’ ‘te’ or ‘ti’. Their confidence grew and very often I would see them close their eyes and try to recall on which colour chart the word was placed.

There were several benefits to this whole usage of the dictionary, they learned the order of letters and spellings like

Is it a ‘k’ or a ‘kh’?

Does ‘p’ come before a ‘m’ or after?

Is it ‘ku’ or ‘koo’?

So after this success at home, we ordered pocket dictionaries and made sure the children carried these to school every time they had a Marathi class, and five minutes every day was dedicated to dictionary work. The blue, green and pink charts were pinned beside the blackboard and so with passive learning we had wonderful results at the mandatory Marathi exams for classes four and seven.

The same method can be applied for English. However, the added advantage in English dictionaries is that the Learner Dictionaries from Colin or Oxford or Cambridge also give simple sentences to illustrate the usage of the word. When ‘race’ is a noun the sentence would be – The hare and the tortoise ran the race. When it is a verb it would be – We raced back to class when we heard the bell.

We not only know what part of grammar a word is but other details for example the feminine version of ‘lion’ is provided as well as the term for the young one of a lion.

We also get to know the different forms of a verb – past/present/future.

Getting children to write letters using word also helps them correct spellings and grammar. I learned this when children would slip me stories they had written. I was so reluctant to sit and correct spellings and grammar as this would have made them stop sharing these precious stories as spontaneous gifts! So I told them: “Why don’t you mail it to me so I can store it safely?” I then proceeded to show them how to write a document and check for spellings, and how to expand their vocabulary and find synonyms.

Kids who were not academically inclined had to message me on WhatsApp telling me what they did every evening, just a sentence or two and that did the trick.

I hated asking kids who had poor spelling skills to sit and learn spellings daily as it was a hated task. Again I downloaded ‘Puzzly Words’ a game where you play scrabble against three opponents and the kids loved to compete and score more than me.

So do make dictionaries accessible to your child and keep it along with their story books, and make learning language a joyful and challenging experience. My Marathi skills improved in leaps and bounds.

There are dictionaries for every level.

Begin with picture dictionaries for toddlers where each word has a picture and the child soon realises that daddy, doll, duck come before egg.

Move to illustrated dictionaries where there are words and pictures.

Learners Dictionary is good till classes three or four and helps with the make sentences homework.

School dictionaries are a little more detailed where types of nouns, adjectives and adverbs are specified as well as tenses and forms of verbs.

It is so tough for our kids, they speak one language at home, they are taught in another language and often they have to learn an additional language. Movies and songs are also good tools for language development. My daughter had a friend who was a Romanian and she was told that she had to improve her English. She did something so smart, she was a fan of the serial ‘Friends’ and had seen the Romanian version of it. She watched the English version and her English language skills improved. 

So Happy Parenting or should I say ‘Joyful Nurturing’ or ‘Sukhmay Parvarish’

(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)