Small wonder, big lessons

WORD PLAY

Children are among the most creative and inventive people when it comes to communicating with others. Often we label their pranks and their words “cute” and do not give them credit for more than just that. Cute they are, no doubt, but they are also saying something profound.

As a teacher in the kindergarten classes these many years, I have watched in utter amazement the nature and skill of their communication.

They come from diverse home-languages and backgrounds but engage with languages other than their own with great ease. Often they assume that everyone should know everyone else’s language and, therefore, without hesitation, shoot off in their own language, unconcerned about whether they are understood or not.

One listens to long conversations of this nature in complete awe! Somehow they understand each other, because you notice pauses, nods and smiles; sometimes even angry faces or dazzling smiles. These ‘conversations’ are beyond language. One almost enters the Tower of Babel, where, unlike the traditional notion of dissonance, there is much togetherness, happiness and perhaps even bliss.

Love for new learning
As they communicate in this absolutely unique manner, children are making friends, building relationships which, they believe, will last forever.

To most children every language, other than their own, must be strange and foreign, including the language of their school. Yet you will see them speak incessantly while sharing their snacks with their friends or when playing together.

English is often the specific language requirement at school. Children have unusual strategies to negotiate this challenge. There is a definitive shift in their mode of communication when they are faced with this ‘new’ language. And, there is no fear. Everyone now desires to belong to the school and claim that identity with great fervour. Hence, they choose to deal with this new language differently. They translate with ease from their own native language into English.

For example, ‘I bread eating, Miss’ or ‘I park go, Miss’, which are direct translations from their mother-tongue (in this case, Hindi).
There may be no grammar here and no rules of language  followed, but the message comes across clearly.
 Somebody once told me that all poetry is communicated before it is understood. I remember those words every time young children communicate in this manner with each other. It is sheer poetry, because all is communicated well before all is said. That certainly is all that matters.

Sound(s) of music
For children, eventually sounds have great meaning. They use the sounds that they have learnt newly as they learn new languages.

During their break and at one of their rather informal races, they appointed a small but powerful leader to start their race. What fascinated me was the manner with which this little referee started her call: “Omyhocks, Get Scared, Go” and the race was on! Little did the children stop to think what it meant as long as it sounded like “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go”.

What I would cherish is not only the ‘cuteness’ of their language but also their enthusiasm to learn something new and be part of relationships.
No doubt as teachers we are bound by the responsibility of teaching them good language skills. We correct their grammar and their sentence-structure without harming or breaking the underlying meaning they wish to communicate. We urge them into using appropriate language in order to enable them to learn better.

Going beyond grammar
Yet there is a deeper insight in what they are doing. They are building bridges between themselves and others. Their intent is to cherish relationships, no matter what the language. They desire to feel the community spirit, whatever the odds. We must take a lesson or two from them — that all is communicated before all is understood.

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