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I’ve always told people that I’m bilingual.
I can speak both Hindi and English.
It was important that we spoke Hindi growing up because our parents and grandparents wanted us to be able to communicate freely with our relatives and family friends. But – even more importantly – they wanted to preserve their culture and their language. They wanted to bottle it up and pass it down to their children with great care.
So I tell people I can speak both Hindi and English fluently. Because my definition of “fluency” is: an ability to successfully hold a conversation in the language.
Yes, I can do that. In both English and Hindi.
But what you won’t necessarily see from the outside is that when I am holding a conversation with someone in Hindi, I become self-conscious and embarrassed about my accent and my stuttering over conjugations of a verb. I choose to keep the conversation to a minimum and won’t elaborate on my experiences – something that I have no problem doing when the conversation is in English. I also tend to lose patience or get angry when someone asks for clarification because it’s a reminder that this is a weaker language for me – a language that requires more brainpower and energy to navigate.
So, you can understand why I prefer to speak in English – a language that is more comfortable for me. A language that flows easily – without any thought.
This preference is not unique to me.
We – as human beings – prefer to communicate in a way that is most efficient and natural to us. We want to convey our thoughts and our inner feelings in a way that’s easy. And, when it’s not easy, we tend to clam up or express what we need in an alternate way.
This is why babies cry.
This is why your toddler throws tantrums.
It is how they are communicating what they need.
However, just because your child has started speaking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have mastered the ability or the skills to communicate effectively. In familiar situations (e.g. playing with friends at school, asking for something to eat), they may not struggle in communicating what they need. But, in situations that may not arise as frequently (e.g. conflict with peers, conversations with adults), they may not be able to express themselves as naturally. This could lead to anger and frustration or avoiding conversations altogether.
We must supply our children with the tools and vocabulary they need in order to navigate unfamiliar territory. The more we can communicate with our children in the earlier years of their life, the more they are able to apply those communication skills independently when we are not around.
Communication Skills Activities
Play with your child.
When they are younger, model how to play with their toys. Pick up their Barbie dolls and act out a conversation. And when your child is old enough to do that on their own, ask them questions about what they’re doing. The more they use words in conversation, the more comfortable they will feel with them.
Stop and ask questions in the middle of reading books to them.
While reading books is important in and of itself, pausing in between pages to ask your child questions helps them formulate sentences when they’re making predictions or talking about a picture on the page. If they are struggling to communicate, have some handy phrases ready for them. “I think _____ is going to _____.” Or “I think ______ feels ______ because ______.”
Play board games like Taboo or Catchphrase.
These are games that require you to describe a word without using the word itself. This forces children to develop their vocabulary and language in a fun, interactive way.
Name items that you see when you’re walking or driving in the car.
One thing my dad does – whether it’s intentional or not – is he tends to narrate his viewing experience as he drives. He will see a laundromat on the left side of the car and will call it out. A few seconds later, he’ll see a restaurant and read the name of the restaurant on the sign. He notices things and communicates them out loud. This can trigger conversations about unknown things. Even as a 30-year old, I find that I’m learning new things as a result of him narrating his own experience.
Watch TV with your child.
Watching Little Einstein? Or Dora the Explorer? Ask your child what might happen next. Talk about the characters. Are they happy or sad? You can even act out a scene together and make up a different ending.
Shop for groceries together.
While shopping for groceries, discuss what you might buy, how MANY you need, or what you will make once you’re home. Discuss the size (large or small), weight (heavy or light), and color (brown, tan, gray, etc.) of the different items.
The common denominator of all of these activities is that there is constant conversation. There is questioning and asking and describing happening in each of these activities. In order to develop communication skills, you must communicate. Often. It is then when your child will develop a comfort with the language. A comfort that will allow them to navigate the language in both familiar situations and unfamiliar situations. A comfort that will allow them to be truly “fluent.”
Questions of the Day:
- What would you add to this list?