Bilingual baby

Today at last the hot and humid heat of Northern Georgia bore fruit, and we had a rainstorm. It was quite delightful, except items of patio furniture and branches were flying outside.

As I cuddled Raihana during her nap (she started daycare this week, and is still adjusting, so I am cuddling her more than usual to compensate for my guilt) – as I cuddled her, I heard rattling against the window. It was hail. Hail in August.

I had to go out to check. I almost felt like bringing the baby outside to show her hail. According to the rules of OPOL (one person, one language), I speak Urdu with her (except sometimes when I am upset, which is counter-intuitive), and Svend speaks English with her. If nothing else, this would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce her to the Urdu word “zhala-baaree” (hailstorm). 

“Zhala-baaree” is one of those words that you rarely ever use in conversation. Still, you need it in the primer because the letter “zh” rarely occurs in the beginning of words. In fact it rarely occurs in words in general, except for polite poetic words like “mizhgaan” (eye-lash).

“Zoy” is another one of those letters that the primer deals with awkwardly. It usually features the word “Zuroof” (containers), and features pictures of dishes, bowls, pitchers, and so on, so it is not terribly self-explanatory to a young child. “Zwaad” is also an embarrassment: it always features the picture of an old man, with the word that usually works as an *adjective* (upsetting the noun-centric world of primers) “Za’eef” (frail and elderly).

I chose a few minutes of quiet relaxation over introducing “zhala-baaree,” of course. She can do without “zh” in general, I think, though we’ll be working on that soon enough.

This week, I have wondered about the possibility of handicapping her in the immediate short term at daycare: she doesn’t have much intimate familiarity with the English words food, eat, drink, water, milk, out, come, play, read, and so on. Does this make her daycare experience worse than that of the other children who come prepared with those words?

I don’t think that the problem will continue for very long, even if it does. Even 3-4 hours a day with peers and Montessori teachers, immersed in English, will suffice to bring her up to date with those language skills.

In a world that does not favour Other languages, Urdu will probably have to start competing for attention very soon indeed. And not just the “zh” words.

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10 Replies to “Bilingual baby”

  1. Wait till R goes to daycare for a while. The Kid here absolutely refuses to speak Urdu even though she understands it. There are times when she actually prefers Spanish over Urdu.

  2. Oh, I hear you, Zack. This is the age where “being normal”=being like everyone else is very important, and it keeps getting worse till they go to college, maybe.

  3. When I did my teacher training, I requested all but one of my assignments have an E2L/community focus. Everything I read said bilingualism is wonderful, as I’m sure everything you have read has, so your child is blessed (well she’s blessed anyway). I remember one Mum in my probationary year at Nursery, telling us how she was only speaking English to her son to help him with school – except that her English was pretty awful. Better speak to him in good Syhleti, we said! As for me, all I can say is, Meyn Urdu thori si bolta hun. But that’s what comes from going to Urdu classes when your thirty rather than when your tiny 🙂

  4. Yakoub, I wish I was a trained schoolteacher, now that I’m raising a baby.

    The kid you mentioned at school, – that’s the reason Svend usually doesn’t try to speak Urdu with Raihana. Better proper English, he says, than terrible Urdu. I still think we should reinforce as much as possible: the competition is going to be fierce soon.

  5. Keep it up baitee
    She should understand at least(Ths Urdu I mean), but the change into english reminds me of your mumani. Raising Hassan and Ayesha she did the same speak urdu usually but immediately changed to english when upset or scolding etc.
    Now I say she was more upset with them than otherwise. Hassan took up seriously to learn Urdu while Ayesha, I had to tell her I will only speak if you speak urdu, so out of love for me she had to try.
    But then they learnt panjabi also, credit to their Sikh friends. Then Hassan also had ‘Japanese’ and chinese friends. So he got carried away with the languages. He had a medal in french, was an “A” student of arabic etc. etc.
    I agree with Akram in that bad urdu is not good, but something is better than nothing

  6. My daughter, who turns four in Oct. loves it when we read her books. We take this opportunity to translate them as we go. The funny thing is, sometimes we don’t even know what is the translation. Its a humbling experience.

  7. We had the same problems when R turned about 2-3 yrs. She was *messed up* with all the languages we were using. I try to use the language I grew up speaking while dh uses alot of english, I try to limit it but he’s so used to it coz of the pple he has been around don’t understand any other language. With baby, I try very hard and she’s alhamdullilah much better. I tell R that baby doesn’t understand her unless she uses the home language, that way, she can use the language even if it sounds like an episode from “Mind your language”. She understands the language and inshallah maybe when she’s older, she’ll be able to connect the dots.

  8. My dh is an Ph.D’d expert in language acquisition and here is the rule in our house: Baba speaks ONLY Arabic to kids and kids are ONLY allowed to speak back to him in Arabic, NEVER in English. This is rigidly enforced– if they speak to him in English, he ignores them and refuses to acknowledge them. If this rule is not applied, the kids won’t be forced to use the language and will not acquire it as well and you’ll get kids who can understand the other language but can’t speak it. (Like all my desi friends growing up used to say about Urdu, complaining about their inability to speak the language coherently when their relatives would visit from overseas and how their relatives would make fun of them.) So in addition to one parent speaking the non-dominant language, the rule HAS to be that child also has to speak it back. Also read lots of stories in that language as well and try to get media (TV, movies) in that language, especially ones where they might already know the story and can contextualize a lot to get the meanings. Anything they might do in English, try to find a other-language counterpart. I even have friends whose parents made them come home from school and study Urdu books to make sure they would know the language well enough to really use it. And they do!

  9. Hi , I agree with the last poster that you have to speak Urdu to kids. Its all about practice and the more you use it the better you will get. What i do with my kiddo is to use half an hour before going to sleep i will ask how was the day and then one game and one story and all in Urdu. It was hard initially but where the kid stumble i provide simple sentences and then when you keep repeating those same sentences for a year or so then it becomes second nature.
    My kiddo likes book and after study time i will read an English story book in Urdu(as per her request:) and during reading i will ask small questions about story (i use the same technique they use in School i.e what are the characters, what is the location, what is the problem and the solution ) in Urdu. First all these questions were just one word then simple sentence now the focus on correct (loose grammar) urud.
    Kids are smart they will choose to use the easy way out and English is the easy way but more often than not is the parents that have to be persistent and keep talking in Urdu.
    Also, urdu rhymes are the great way to teach basic Urdu i used choo, choo cha cha ghari pay chooha naacha, aik tha teetar aik tha bateer and etc. I also ask the names of vegies, fruits and everday household items on regular basis. For example, duppata, piyaz, piyali etc.

    Phew thats was a long post but dont treat urdu as a 2 hour sunday school thing rather way of life(alteast in your home).

    Thanks.

  10. This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article Luckily, anxiety attacks don’t hit me too often.

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