Thursday, 21 February 2013

Multi-lingual kids

I love languages. I love learning new languages. I love to speak to people in their native language even if it’s a simple hello or thank you -  I know they love to hear it. At the least, I feel happy when a non-tamilian says “Vanakkam” (Hello in my mother tongue)

My mother was a College lecturer (Dept of Homescience). When I was around 10 years (frankly I don’t remember the exact age, but I know for sure it was before I started having big time crushes on boys), my mom declared that “Kids by the age of 4 have the ability to learn 5 languages”. This was from somebody’s thesis for the subject ‘Child development’. I was so livid with her that she let me learn only two languages (Tamil and English) and I decided that when I have a kid that she (I was sure that I wanted a girl baby even then) was going to learn 5 languages by the age of 4.               

Now my elder one, my God’s gift – Arushi (she is a girl and 3.5 years old) is nowhere close to learning 5 languages. But I should say that she is good in two languages (Tamil and English), speaks few words in Chinese and loves to learn Spanish and Hindi.

Yesterday I was speaking with an acquaintance from my condo and she commented on Arushi being bi-lingual successfully. Her son refuses to speak his mother tongue and prefers English. Another acquaintance (we met at our condo playground) said that she was a Tamilian, her husband Rajasthani and that her children speak neither!

Now, I am not an expert on kids nor  I am being judgemental about letting your kids be mono-lingual. All I am suggesting is that if you are multi-lingual, it is definitely a great gift that you can pass on to your child. I am chronicling below on how Arushi started speaking both Tamil and English so that she can raise her children multi-lingual in case I forget how I did it or if I am not around with my free advice ;)


Tamil is Arushi’s mother tongue and her father tongue too J. Both me and my husband love Tamil. We grew up learning tamil literature at school and really were very keen that Arushi too should experience the beauty of Tamil. So, we decided that we consciously make Tamil as Arushi’s  natural language. We speak Tamil at home always. Arushi’s grandparents (one-set) speak to her in Tamil only, the other set speak in both Tamil and English. So Arushi became good at speaking Tamil, though our relatives back in India say that she has a quirky accent.


Arushi did not understand much of English when she began pre-school at 2 years and I have to thank her school ( for helping her pickup English. I translated Arushi’s basic Tamil words (water, milk, etc) for the teachers on day one.

 Arushi used to watch ‘Disney Junior’ cartoon channel – it is highly age appropriate and teaches her values too. Her English improved dramatically from watching TV. Watch out of episodes of Word world. Of course, we reading books to her helped too. Definitely, her English standard is slightly below her peers’ from an English-only speaking family background. But as of now, we don’t bother much about this. After a long holiday (minimal English exposure) her English goes down, that’s when we decide to speak in English only with her for some time, but she invariably comes back to form.


Thanks to her ‘lousher’ (Chinese teacher) at school. She sings Chinese rhymes, knows Chinese equivalent of fruits, body parts, actions etc. She forgets them during holiday if we don’t brush it up. So, we requested her lousher to transliterate the Chinese words in English for us and ran through it for a couple of times during the holiday. It’s sad that I don’t have any Chinese neighbours or friends who could build her vocabulary, but we do ‘youtube’ some Chinese rhymes. If somebody can recommend suitable Chinese cartoon shows or movies it would be great. I really wish that she gets an opportunity to stay in touch with this language.        

Spanish and Hindi

I was in Puerto Rico for 4 months before my marriage and I loved the Spanish language and picked up bits of it. I had couple of close friends who were very sweet (Sheila Sanchez - I love you!) and constantly helped me learn it. So, I would love to pass to Arushi my bits and pieces of espanol. Of course, Handy Manny is a huge help. (For the uninitiated, Handy Manny is a cartoon show which teaches Spanish). My Filipino part time maid chimes in too, I understand there are a lot of Spanish influence in their culture.

Hindi… mmm.. its my national language, but I don’t know to read or write. But I picked it from watching Hindi movies and the fact that most of my school friends are Muslims helped too. Urdu was ubiquitous during my school days. Anyways, Arushi has just started identifying the language. Most of her park friends are north Indians and I hope she does pick up some Hindi from them.

What if Arushi crosses age four without knowing five languages, mmm…I understand it is very difficult to achieve that unless you have five next door neighbours – all of them with kids her age – each of them knowing only their mother tongue and that they use it during play…!

We can pickup languages even if you get old… I know I can and I did. I had a friend by name Gopi, who picked up reading and writing Tamil from Tamil movie posters!!! Don’t ask me how he did it, I really don’t know….!!!

Mmmm.. I now know that Arushi has her entire life to learn languages! I just wish that I can rub off my love of languages onto her.
Hey, by the way I have published two bi-lingual books. 1) My first Tamil-English Picture dictionary and 2) Palikku sellum Kittuvum Chittuvum.

My first Tamil-English Picture Dictionary

The first one is a picture book with both Tamil and its equivalent English word, Arushi learns a lot of new Tamil words from this. Eventhough her Tamil is good, she usually substitues English nouns (crow, tiger, one, two, etc). This book helped her Tamil vocabulary.
Arushi adores the second book. This is a story book of a Kitten's first day at school. This is written in both Tamil and English(Dual Language). We read this book either in Tamil or English depending upon her mood and whim! 
Visit for more details on the books.


  1. Great write-up Anu. Yes you are very correct about the multi-lingual capacity of the kids, but I have a feeling that if we introduce them to many languages before the age of 5, atleast they can learn them when they are older.

  2. Well written about the importance of keeping your kid multilinguistic... most importantly, at right time... The irony is that Achu being a son of staunch tamil fanatic like me hardly speaks any tamil but understands quiet well.. i am trying my best to tighten the nooze :) keep writing more anu.. this for sure is a great start... specially on parenting... we are listening :)

  3. Hey Thanks for the comments Archu and Arvind..
    Dear friends, please leave your "karuthu"... (Thinking of you Vaidy sir..)

    Do check out this link, its a good one on "Common Misonceptions About Raising Bilingual Children"