“Will your baby speak Marathi, or just English?”, she said as she looked at me, almost disapprovingly. As if my influence would be shielding my son from speaking the local language. I had to suppress my urge to turn defensive and simply smile and say, “both”.
I didn’t even know who this woman was.
Why did I take it personally?
Well, most of the children I know here in India have a great grasp of English, and can speak Marathi and Hindi fluently. Indian does have 22 official languages, after all. My husband can speak Marathi, Hindi, English and even Sanskrit. So, why would our child “just” speak English? Probably because I haven’t managed to become fluent in Marathi myself. This is something I am working on, but I’m certain the fact I am no polyglot will have little impact on the beautiful human we are raising, as we are living in a multilingual household.
There are various ways you can encourage children in multilingual families to grow up speaking two or more languages, we’ve thought about it a lot. We are currently living with my husband’s parents, so they talk to him in Marathi and our neighbour’s sons (ages 6 and 11) chat to Rohan in Hindi. My husband and I speak to Rohan in English, along with a couple of Hindi songs, as it’s the language we communicate in. We often have visitors in our house speaking Marathi or Hindi. I like to encourage everyone to have conversations with Rohan, so it’s worked out pretty well so far.
Isn’t it too soon to be thinking about this?
A funny thing happened that made me realise that it’s never too early to start exposing a child to multiple languages. My husband was discussing the recent demonetisation of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes with his mother in his mother tongue. Rohan looked at him with an expression I can only describe as astonishment. Maybe he was surprised by Modi’s radical move, but I think he was shocked by his Daddy’s language change. I later read that research suggests that babies start recognising words from 6 months, It seems my 6 month old already knows more Marathi than I do, I don’t think he will speak “just” English!