Thursday, May 27, 2010

Second Language a Boon or Bane????

Today morning I got up with a great relief. Can you guess the reason? My son's third grade second language (S.L) exam was over yesterday. For the past two weeks we have been (both of us) slogging over learning Hindi when compared to other subjects. Other subjects needed two hours of studying but the S.L needed six hours of practice. The reason being that he was not familiar with the language. When ever his exams approach I become stressed out and my B.P shoots up high. I know I am over reacting but I have to admit that at times I am an average Indian mother. I have to work with him to make him get a pass at least.

When he was in first standard he was given the option of choosing Hindi,or Tamil or French. There should be some use when you learn a language.I made him chose Hindi because I thought that he could learn a new language. Tamil being our mother tongue he can learn at home. French is going to be of no use other than to score marks. He is not going to speak in French with any of his friends unless he happens to go to France when he grows up. In that case he would have forgotten the language by then. Hindi seemed to be the best option because it is our national language and he can speak with his friends in Hindi . I feel very bad for not having learnt to speak in Hindi.

When I was in 9th standard there was a new girl from Dubai. She had moved with her family from Dubai to Tanjore. She didn't know a word of Tamil. Out of over enthusiasm to learn Tamil and to make new friends she came to me for help. When you are in your teens you know how your brain works out all nasty plans. Me and another friend of mine used to teach her Tamil . First we started off with all animal names (so that she can call others by those names) , then taught her the "disrespectful words" followed by words used to scold others. She was so innocent that she would repeat what ever we taught her. It was so much fun to watch her speak Tamil. In the name of teaching her Tamil we used to make fun of her. She didn't care about our teasing. Slowly by the end of the year she was able to converse in Tamil. Next year she started showing interest in learning the alphabets so that she can learn to read and write. By the time we were in twelfth standard she could read and write. She had learnt a new language very easily without any stress.

Language is nothing but imitation of sounds. Learning a language should be lot of fun. Kids either chose their mother tongue or a new language as their S.L . In the name of second language our kids are made to hate learning a new language or their own mother tongue. Not only my kids, I think most of the school going kids spend a lot of extra time in learning the S.L. The amount of effort they put on the S.L, doesn not help them in their future.

The best way to introduce a language is to teach how to speak the language first. When young you are not shy to speak a new language. You are ready to correct your mistakes very easily. As you grow older you feel shy to speak a new language . You are conscious about what others will say. When I see so many people around me speak in Hindi I feel I should also speak but I am very conscious about the mistakes I make and I switch back to my comfort zone--English. From first standard to fourth standard children should be taught to speak the second language fluently. Once their vocabulary is strong enough then in the 5th standard writing can be introduced. They learn fast to read and write once their vocabulary is strong. They can easily frame sentences and the grammar part becomes easy too. They understand what they learn.

What is the use of learning too much of grammar? By focusing too much on grammar kids loose their interest in learning the literature part of a language. The element of enjoyment in learning a new language is wiped out . It is not that all the children learn their mother tongue as their second language. For kids who learn a new language as their S.L their vocabulary is very limited. It is very difficult for them to express themselves or answer the questions in writing. Language should be a means of communication .Children should be made to listen to a lot of the new language. Listening comprehension should be emphasized . They should be encouraged to speak the language. When a child learns to speak a new language fluently then he gains confidence.

Getting a A+ doesn't mean a child is well versed in the language or that he or she can appreciate the culture and the heritage of the language. It is just for the grades kids learn the language with extra effort. This attitude should be changed into learning out of interest. They learn with so much hard work but when applying for colleges the S.L marks are not taken into account, unless they opt to specialize in art subjects. Even for kids who learn mother tongue as S.L why do they need to learn the intricacies of the language? In what way is it going to help them? If some kids show extra interest let them be segregated and given greater challenges. When the medium of instruction of all subjects is the same as the S.L then it might be easy for the kids. But for other kids learning a new language is like climbing the Everest.

Kids of this generation mingle with multi racial, multi cultural, multi lingual children. The common language for communication is mostly English. They even tend to speak less of their mother tongue at home. Hence they think in English and speak in English. It is not fair on our part to push them too hard into learning the grammar part of a language. We all want to help our mother tongue thrive in this English dominating society. We have to be more creative in helping our kids in the learning process.

Do we remember the grammar or the poems we learnt in our school? Why unnecessarily put pressure on the kids from young age. Instead of concentrating on the S.L so much they can learn other subjects. Other than speaking,writing and reading a language nothing else is going to help them in the long run. Without knowing how to speak a language fluently what is the use of learning the language? When you move to a place where everyone speaks a language you don't know, you are compelled to learn that language. No matter you are a learned person or not, you learn it very quickly because of the need. Let us first help our children to speak a new language before they learn to read and write in that language. When the base is strong enough they will automatically show interest in learning the language in detail. It is an easy job both for the children and the teachers. As the children go to higher classes they should be taught to appreciate the language. When young they look upon a language just as a tool for communication. They cannot appreciate the richness of a language.

Second language learning is too stressful these days both for the children as well as the parents(of course the moms--personal experience ). Exam oriented approach should be changed while learning a language. It should be a pleasant experience. The learner as well as the teacher should enjoy the experience. Especially kids who move from one state to another and who return to India after having studied abroad are affected by the S.L .

As I said earlier initial stress should be on teaching the children to speak the language fluently. For this more interactive teaching methods should be introduced. Acting out a drama , a small on the spot speech --just a few lines on any given topic , could be tried out. They should not be asked to memorize anything. They should be encouraged to speak on their own . This way their vocabulary will improve. By listening to other kids do the same thing they will gain confidence to speak the language. Later reading should be taught. Writing should come after a few years of speaking and reading.

I know how to read and write in hindi but I don't know the meaning. What is the use? If I had known how to speak the language first then it would have been a great help for me. Hope I will learn to speak Hindi by the time my son completes his tenth grade. Just like many moms out there, who are hoping for a change in the Second Language Learning and Teaching approach I am also waiting with lots of hope. The Education Department should design a syllabus to cater to the new generation. The old school of thoughts should be improvised to suit the new current scenario.

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