ADAM’S NOTE: Along with your persistent daily efforts to nurture the minority language—in particular, talking to your child as much as you can and reading aloud—I also encourage you to pursue short-term projects, which can provide a powerful boost for language exposure and engagement. Make videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; create a picture book or comic book; write and perform a short play; sing and record a favorite song (or make up your own); invent a new game and play it together; compile a photo album and add captions; do craft-making or building activities; research and report on some subject of interest; and many more. (See the links at the end of this post for a number of encouraging examples.)
In today’s guest post, Deepti Gupta offers a wonderful example of her own: a podcast that she has created with her young son. When Deepti wrote to me about her new project, I was eager to share it with all of you because creative efforts like this, which are so engaging and effective, can offer tremendous inspiration for families of any target language. (And even if you don’t understand Hindi, I urge you to listen to a podcast episode, like this one. It overflows with not only language but much laughter and joy as well.) So many thanks to you, Deepti and Josh! And all the best with your lovely podcast!
Last year, my 6-year-old son, Josh, began listening to an English language story podcast called What If World. The stories on this podcast are fun, creative, and super imaginative. Josh enjoyed them so much, he could listen to episode after episode.
Because I’m committed to raising a bilingual, Hindi-speaking child, I decided that I needed to find something similar for him to listen to in Hindi. So I looked for Hindi story podcasts online and on apps like Saavn, an Indian music streaming service. What I found was a few podcasts in Hindi but with the same old Hindi stories and the language used didn’t sound like how we speak Hindi. Bookish Hindi doesn’t help a young child who is learning to express himself in this language.
So I started wondering if I should start a podcast myself. But what would it be about? I could have just narrated stories from the Panchtantra and the Upanishads and created a podcast of these traditional tales. But I wanted something that would capture the imagination and interests of children in today’s world. How do you create new content that kids of this era can relate to? Where both snakes and robots can be in the same story? I was at a loss.
Our first podcast episode
Last December we went to an event called Makers Faire at the Los Angeles Central Public Library. This is a fair where all kinds of innovators and creative folks gather to showcase their inventions and creations. We got to see Eric O’Keeffe of “What If World” in action. He created a podcast episode on the spot with the participation of kids in the audience. Josh had the chance to give a suggestion for the story, too.
I think both he and I were inspired by what we saw and experienced. The joy of creating and letting our imagination take flight. I have a home studio where I record my audiobooks and sometimes Josh would sit in my booth and narrate his own made-up stories or just gibberish stuff. He loves these “recording sessions,” and they’re fun for both of us. So I wondered if he and I could create something together. And it was now clear to me that a storytelling podcast was the right direction.
Not long after that, on a fine Saturday morning in January, we decided to take action. He was in good spirits and I was excited at the prospect. In half an hour, we recorded our first podcast! It was exhilarating! Josh then made the logo for our podcast, a picture of the two of us recording in the booth. That same day I edited the audio, chose a platform, and launched our new podcast, called Josh Ke Saath. (“Josh Ke Saath” means “Along with Josh” and also means “With Enthusiasm.”) I shared it with other families and the response has been amazing.
Beginning our bilingual journey
Our Hindi learning journey, which led us to starting this podcast, began with Josh’s birth. When I became a mother, I decided that I wanted my son to also speak Hindi. (Actually, Hindustani, a combination of Hindi and Urdu.) My husband speaks only English, so it was up to me to make this happen. But back then, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to teach him my native language.
From the beginning I spoke to Josh in Hindi and my husband spoke to him in English. I understood what my husband was saying, but my husband, of course, couldn’t understand my Hindi so he felt left out. He wanted me to translate everything for him. I was a new mom and having to translate all the things I was saying in Hindi got exhausting. My zeal to nurture Hindi prompted my husband and I to renegotiate how our household would operate. There had to be times when he wouldn’t know what I’m saying to my son and he would have to trust that when it was really important, I would switch to English to include him.
It wasn’t easy, but I give my husband credit for supporting my efforts when my own family back in India didn’t. My parents and relatives in India thought Josh had no need to learn Hindi since he lives in an English-speaking country. They didn’t see a practical reason for investing all this energy into it. My husband’s family, who don’t speak Hindi, initially felt awkward when I’d speak to Josh in Hindi in front of them. I knew that they didn’t understand what was being said and perhaps they felt left out. But to me, a child that’s part of two cultures needs to have all the tools necessary to explore both cultures. And I felt it was my duty to give him the tool of Hindi.
My worries and efforts
The truth is, I’ve spent some restless nights worrying about how to support his Hindi learning. I bought crazy amounts of Hindi books from India and was always on the lookout for new Hindi apps for our tablet. Yes, I did give my son more screen time than I ideally wanted to, but it was important to surround him with Hindi influences just as he was surrounded by English influences. The feeling of being alone on this journey became overwhelming when he began going to an English language preschool, and I worried constantly about him losing Hindi.
I remember when he was two and a half and he started recognizing English letters on the road signs. I got anxious. I know it’s funny that I’d get anxious at my son’s accomplishment, but I did. I wanted him to be able to recognize Hindi letters just as easily as English letters. So I searched for Hindi alphabet toys and building blocks. Amazon didn’t have them at the time (they do now) so I bought some square wooden blocks and got some alphabet learning booklets from India. Then my son and I cut and glued the Hindi letters onto the blocks to create our own Hindi letter blocks. (See These Are the Building Blocks of a Successful Bilingual Journey (and a Closer Bond) with Your Kids.)
We also try to immerse him in the language and culture by taking him to India every year. This is a commitment we’ve made as a family. Now he’s attending a Spanish immersion school and in a few years will be trilingual. My husband and I don’t speak Spanish, but we understand that the future of our world is global.
Feeling courage and hope
This has been a tough journey, but what keeps me going are the moments when Josh surprises me with his Hindi ability. One summer, when he was three years old, we were in India at my parents’ house. I took him to the playground to play with other kids there. Josh and two other kids were on a merry-go-round and one kid made a joke in Hindi and Josh laughed. He not only understood the language, but also the Indian sense of humor. In that moment I felt assured that his Hindi was growing and I was on the right path.
Or the next summer when my mom, Josh, and I were going somewhere in the car. My mom and I were talking about something, in Hindi, while Josh was looking out the window at the trucks going by. During a pause in our conversation, he turned and asked a question about something my mom had said a few minutes before. My mom and I looked at each other in surprise. He had understood everything we were saying.
These are the sort of moments that have given me courage and hope.
Making our podcast episodes
My son is now 6 years old and has been going to a Hindi class every weekend for the past year and a half. At this point he can understand Hindi very well and he can speak well, too, though I’m trying to help him expand his ability to express himself.
And, of course, one of these ways is through our podcast.
When we create a podcast episode, we begin with a “story starter.” We decide on the Who, Where, and What, then build the story sentence by sentence. Who is in the story? Where are they? And what are they doing? That’s all. We use a basic improvisation technique called “Yes, and” to build our stories. What this means is that, no matter what your partner says, you must accept it and build on it. So, no matter how crazy the sentence is that Josh makes, I have to say “Yes, and then” and add the next sentence to further the story. I can’t, for instance, tell him that a goat doesn’t eat metal. That happened in episode 2 and I simply accepted it as a fact of the story and we went on having fun with it. So, while I’m teaching him to think and express himself in Hindi, we’re also practicing an amazing collaboration technique that makes learning creative and playful.
Josh doesn’t always know all the words in Hindi. If you listen to our podcast, you’ll hear me prompting him or asking him to think deeper about something he said. Or describe something in more detail in Hindi. So he learns vocabulary as we go along.
The goal is not for this to be a polished Hindi podcast. We want to let parents and kids feel that it’s a learning process for us, too, and mistakes are okay. There are times I forget a Hindi word for something, too. In fact, in episode 2 (yes, the one with the metal-eating goat), I couldn’t recall how to say “jealous” in Hindi. We laughed about it and, of course, it came back to me after we finished recording. I edit very little out. On days when we’re both a little tired, it’s tough to keep the energy up. I have to make sure he feels excited to record each week. He loves when we get a “story starter” from a listener. He said it makes him feel that we have a community that supports us. Those were his words.
Fun, creative, and engaging
This podcast has given me a fun way to connect with my son and so far we’ve gotten great feedback from kids and parents alike. Our goal is to be consistent about producing an episode each week. We will learn from our listeners as we go along. We will bring in guests who can collaborate on stories with us. I’m also thinking of Skyping guests in for episodes. I’d like to include other kids, too, who can be creative with us.
With this podcast I want to fill a gap that exists for kids learning Hindi today. I wish I had something like this when Josh and I started our bilingual journey. My hope is that more kids of South Asian descent will listen and feel inspired to learn and speak Hindi (Hindustani). And for parents this can be a fun game to play at home. It builds connection, improves listening skills, and develops creative thinking.
If you’re a parent who feels some resistance from your child when it comes to speaking your native language, think of a simple “story starter” with a Who, a Where, and a What. And simply ask your child: “What do you think happens next?” And no matter what your child says, remember “Yes, and” and continue building the story. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your child will become engaged in creating the story with you.
And here’s how you can help Josh and me. Ask your kids to come up with a “story starter,” record them saying it, and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll not only create a story from your suggestion, we’ll also play the audio of your child on our podcast. I hope you’ll join us at “Josh Ke Saath”!
Josh Ke Saath is available at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and any web browser by visiting http://joshkesaath.podbean.com.
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