English only please!

3:22 PM

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time, to be exact, since the parent teacher meeting I had last February during which the teachers express some concerns about Ishita’s communication skills.
See from the moment she was born, I made a point of talking French with her, DH stuck to Hindi when he was around, and she got exposed to English on a daily basis via the other kids at the playground and TV, life was pretty simple, we knew that like all multilingual kids she would take more time to speak properly, and that was it. But Ishita is a late speaker, she is 3 and despite understanding everything I say in both French and English she is one of these kids that will just not speak unless they absolutely have to, my mom reported that I had the exact same traits as a kid and that until past the age of 3 it was rare to hear me utter a word if I could avoid it, and then almost overnight I started talking. Needless to say that in other circumstances I would not be worried about Ishita knowing that on top of being exposed to 3 languages at the same time she is also having some hereditary factors that seem to dictate her refusal to speak.
That was without taking into account her school and the fact that they have to make sure kiddos are ready for the ultracompetitive Indian school system later, with their admission interviews to enter kindergarten and what not.
Their main concern back in February was that they had no clue whether Ishi actually understood English because she was content not to speak, and she was not ALWAYS fallowing instruction as a result they urged me to discontinue speaking French which in their term was not a useful language anyway, DH asked about Hindi and was met with the same “not useful language at the time” sentence, in short, we had to speak ENGLISH ONLY at home, so she would start learning how to talk.
Back then I mulled the issue over and over, talked with other parents in her school that have also been told that their regional language all confounded were useless and that if they wanted to give the best chance to their kids in school they had to switch to English only. As a compromise I switched to mostly French at home, and exclusively English outside, since it’s another approved method for bilingual kids, the result was that Ishita kept picking up words at the exact same rate, still refused to speak more than the absolute necessary, and the teachers at summer camp to question me still on whether she was understanding English…never did they raised the possibility of there being a speech issue, nope their only concern was that she was exposed to a monolingual environment…explaining that bilingualism confuse kids!
That had me baffled of course, because research is there to support the fact that YES kids growing in more than one language do indeed speak much later, and that NO they aren’t confused, and that early exposure to many languages has been proven to develop the brain in a much different pattern and help improve communications skills later on. In a country that has so many regional official languages and thousands of dialects, you would think the school system would be prepared with the notion of multilingualism, but it seems not so much.
With the school year starting last June, yet again the teacher questioned the same thing once again…”Does she understands English” and for some reason they don’t even seem to believe me when I say that yes she does, because she is a quiet little one that doesn’t speak much compared to her peer…never mind my trying to point out that introverts do exists and it’s not bad, I’ve been over that topic on the blog already. What they want is an exclusively English speaking extrovert Ishita, and nothing else will do…sigh!
So sick and tired of being questioned on what language I speak and what language was spoken at home, I switched to exclusively English both outside and inside. Simply because the school system in this multicultural and multilingual country is disturbingly close minded and elitist, I wouldn't;t want her to be turned down during admission time early next year now would I? Rejected because she calls a dog a “chien” and prefer calling water “pani” now that would be humiliating.
So I switched to English, and guess what? She still picks up new words at the same pace as before, she just now started seeing the point of no longer whining, but I doubt it has anything with the switch to a monolingual environment, it’s probably just that she is coming around and realising that her stubbornness is futile and that she gets more out of the deal with words…at this point I am fairly sure she would have acted the same even if still spoken French. Pani still means water and is preferred by her, dogs are still “chiens”, and she still is able to say “No” in all three languages according to her mood of the instant. And as it has been for the past 4-5 months, the only two sentences she speak are English ones and the only ones that matter to her: “What is this?” and “Wake up!” when DH and I refuse to go out of bed on Sunday morning when she wants us in the living room.

So what does this “Speak English only” enforced by some playschool and later the elementary school system going to achieve…the way I see it it will mean the death of some regional languages. Now I actually scarily see the point of some of these regional extremist parties defending Kannada or Marathi. I disagree with some of their methods, and of course strongly disagree with their politics, but I now start seeing the threat they fear. Yes the school system favours English, you have teachers telling parents that their regional languages are useless and will make the kid fail admission interviews for Jr Kg, in short it means that local culture and family heritage sucks, and should be done with…so if so little care is given to Marathi which is the State language in Mumbai, who cares about one firangi speaking French to her daughter to preserve some cultural heritage I ask you?
Fortunately almost 3 years of exposure to French is not going to be forgotten so easily by her, and as soon as she starts speaking to the level of satisfaction of the school, I plan to slowly reintroduce my native language to her.
Since my daughter apparently refuses to change her introvert nature to become an extrovert at the school’s command, and that she oh ultimate crime can’t colour within the line in her homework book at age 3 (more on that in another post) I might as well give in on the language issue before the school labels me a rebellious mom…sigh!

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  1. I think it is great that you are exposing Ishita to so many different languages at such an early age. This is precisely the age where different languages should be taught. I believe even just hearing all these different languages helps the brain envelop a way to process all these different sounds in a meaningful manner. 'English only' was the rule at the schools I went to as a child in a predominantly Spanish speaking California That's one of the biggest flaws of the US educational system I feel, too little exposure to other languages at too late an age- therefore very few Americans are fluent in any other language but English.
    I also wonder if Ishita's 'perceived' unwillingness to speak isn't somewhat based on cultural differences. My Indian husband's extended family is VERY LOUD & noisy compared to our little 'nuclear' family. I'm sure this is because of my 'American' influence- screaming and yelling are not allowed in our household unless there is an emergency. I'd bet that you and your husband aren't as 'LOUD' & vociferous as most other Indian families also, so Ishita probably seems quieter & more 'introverted' than the other children in her class. (which I don't think is a bad thing.)

  2. yeah and I think the Indian school system is going down the same dangerous slope urging parents to speak English home.

    No ishita is a true introvert it's not just a cultural thing, she is happy to be in her own company rather than play in a large group, even at the playground, and that is what the teachers don't like, kids should apparently be highly social.
    As far as the talking goes, she says words, no sentences other than the two mentionned in the blog entry, if she can get away with just answering yes and no to all the questions we ask her she will gladly do it, she is a little girl of little words and lot of action LOL
    She is at a point where she will rather climb high in the kitchen shelves to get the cookies rather than simply ask for them, and we know she knows the word for cookie because I once asked her to get down the kitchen counter and she started screaming it.

  3. I was an introvert for most of my childhood and still am for the most part but I had to try very hard not to be that way after junior high school because I felt badly that most people actually took my shyness for being stuck up. I hope that things work out nicely for you and that she does grow up to be multilingual it will be so much more benificial than being stuck only understanding english. I only wish I had the exposure to other languages at such a young age. Then I may not be struggling so much to figure out Telugu as I am now.

  4. Sorry your comment didn't show up immediately, I have no idea why it got posted on the blogger platform but not transfered to Disqus.
    One of the common misconception people have about introvert is to call them shy. Shyness and introversion are actually far from being the same. I'm not shy, but yes been told I was by people who didn't know better. I just prefer the company of few and love moments of solitude, and yes you are right it makes introverts appear to be stuck up...sigh!

    I think once she satisfies school with her speech level and English skill i will re-introduce French pronto, I don't want her to grow monolingual. I did, and it makes learnign new languages as a grown up that much harder. I was lucky I had some affinities with English as a teen and picked it up in school fast, but I can't say the same about the German and Italian I had to learn during the same period, can't help to think that if my dad spoke German to me as a kid things would have been different on the language front.

  5. wow, who would have thought that with India being a multilingual nation,the school systems do not encourage other languages... I have always been an extrovert so I have never faced an issue, but my husband who is an introvert often gets misunderstood even now at his work place or at family functions - you have broadened my outlook on how introvert kids are judged in judgmental India.

  6. As an introvert myself I know my mother was asked into PT meetings often back in Switzerland too, I think the world over the school system favours extroverts and teachers are led to think there is something wrong with a child that doesn't talk much or interact all the time with peers. In Ishita's case the fact that she isn't yet really making sentences and use words on an esclusive "Need to use" basis makes it even worse, they are convinced I totally damaged my daughter exposing her to french...argh!

  7. lol.. how is targeting the language going to solve the problem that a person might just not be interested to converse in the first place? I know this because I face this on a daily basis : In the initial days of getting to know my husband, I would force him to make small talk just for the sake of it during a get-together and he wouldn't as that is just not how he is resulting in him being misunderstood as perhaps not being interested in the party often offending my parents who had come to visit etc.. It is only after 3 years, that my parents have understood that my husband just does not talk if he feels he has nothing worthwhile to say and he is comfortable to sit silently and listen / observe others in one corner.

  8. Both DH and I are comfortable not talking, so it seems as a no brainer that our daughter is a silent observer too, but go try to explain that to a school teacher :-)

  9. Apologies for posting this comment possibly months, even years, after this post was made (I cannot see the date created for some reason)

    I totally agree with you with the fact that Indian languages are dying, and that's simply because of lack of respect for it. Now that I've left my hometown, Mumbai, to live in another country for 6 years now, I realise that how important this is. Because of always studying in an English school, it is our go to language when working. But for daily communication with people, we always use Hindi or state dialects, leaving us entirely confused, because we cannot work or study in Hindi and neither can we speak English well. There are German, French and Chinese students who speak their languages all the time, but not a single of the hundreds of Indian students at this university ever utter a Hindi word. Which leaves us confused, why are we better at foreign languages than at our own? Reading about your efforts for preserving your heritage made my day really. I hope you continue to do so.

    Also with some? maybe personal experience I can say that I've always been toggling with 4 languages, Tamil in the community, Marathi at home, Hindi in films and TV and English at school. And all of them are crystal clear for me to translate from one another all the time, so it's pretty sad to see Indian teachers going against this.

    1. Sadly a lot has changed since I wrote that post in 2012 :-( My daughter's playschool was very successful in harassing us to switch to just English, and used a lot of fear mongering to make us do so, as in "She will never get admission to any school in Jr Kg".

      Fast forward to 2017, She doesn't speak French or even Hindi, and her English is really just now really getting good. The school give her modified Hindi worksheets designed for non-Hindi speaker and one of the girls in our previous building made nasty remarks about her not having a right to call herself Indian because she didn't speak Hindi!!!!!!!!

      In that instance I strongly interfered and told that brat of a girl that YES my daughter holds an Indian passport, and that therefore that makes her an Indian. This gem of a pest went as far as telling me "Yes but she is not a real Indian because she doesn't speak Hindi"
      To which I pointed that many Indians do not speak it, or understand it, or even come from a region of India where it is spoken. I gave the example of South India. Only for that freaking 9 years old to go on telling me very seriously that South Indians all speak rubbish because it only sounds like something like "oogloo pagloo pooongoo" I was LIVID.
      A 9 years old only thinks that way because her parents demonstrated enough crassness, and racism.
      I told that girl that making fun of people who speak different languages is nasty, and then I asked her how she would feel if people made fun of her because she speak Hindi and not Tamil, or Telugu, or heck even a foreign language. She had no reply to that...


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