Overcoming the language barrier

Anjali Sharma

If language is not correct then what is said is not what is meant, and if what is said is not what is meant then what must be done remains undone!!!– Confucius

This could not have been more true in the case of Josh Anoch and David (expatriate children from Korea who had joined the Jain Heritage Cambridge school in Hyderabad). They had to deal with the uphill task of learning Hindi as their second language.

Initially, sounding Greek or Latin, if not a mix of both, they missed out on many things while trying to learn the Indian language until their teacher, Mr. Prabhat Kumar, devised new ways to reach out to them. He started conversation-based activities wherein the children started learning phrases that found usage in everyday conversation. Stress was laid on communicative language rather than on the usage of grammar in its correct form and the children started adjusting well in class.

While language is arguably an important tool to express oneself and to bridge gaps and transcend barriers, it can also seem an insurmountable hurdle especially if the language or the medium is new. One can get a glimpse of this by just observing children as they learn to make the transition from one medium to another. They face an onslaught of discrimination which, on occasions, can affect them emotionally. Underprivileged children also go through a similar situation when attempts are made to integrate them into the mainstream. To overcome issues like these, Gitanjali Devashray school has embarked upon an initiative along with the Smile Foundation’s `Kid’s XL Programme’ wherein underprivileged children from Mahita School get to spend joint sessions with the students of Gitanjali Devashray.

Here are a few simple but handy learning approaches that will work well and help break language barriers and build bonds!

  1. One way evidently, is to emphasize communicable language (phrases) rather than the usage of grammar. For example, learning basic phrases / groups of words that are fundamental to communication like: come here, go there, sit down, do this, do that, draw this, write that, see this. These, in any language, can ensure that basic operational words of communication are conveyed and the learner can start to use the new language. Your job then is to build on this. The focus initially therefore can be on implicit language learning rather than explicit grammar learning.
  2. Using learning aids like flash cards is another way. This could prove quite useful especially in cases where a child is learning to identify letters/numbers.
  3. Another good way is to enact stories rather than read them out. As the saying goes: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.’’ Taking short stories with morals, and with a lot of action, help children understand the central idea of the story and more easily; infer the messages while learning to communicate.
  4. Devising activities that involve all children will greatly help them learn the new language. This ensures that all are on a level-playing field. They could be through simple art and craft activities – say drawing on a common theme, watching a movie, listening to or playing music.
  5. Games and exercises that call for team work will help them interact with one another. For example, solving puzzles jointly, crossword, spelling bees, guided story writing / narration.

A mix of these could be a handy tool kit for the teacher and the child.

The author is a teacher at Gitanjali Devshray, Hyderabad. She can be reached at reachanjali@gmail.com.