Author: Oindrila Ghosh
As a fellow from a different state, the language barrier is the most prominent obstacle blocking a connection with the children. While this felt like the biggest struggle for me, I realised that my children are making an effort for me as well. Explore how we are both trying to overcome this challenge and connect beyond language.
“Good morning everyone! How are you all?” I greeted a class full of students who stared at me blankly. “Miss doesn’t know Tamil, can we try talking in English?”, again, blank faces.
This was the first conversation I had with my class. That never stopped them though. Children would come up to me and talk to me throughout the day whenever they could. I’d try my best to keep up by watching their expressions, listening to voice modulation, building off of the handful of words I knew then.
A student from a different section had come into the class, she tried to tell me something to which I stared blankly, a few students told her, “Miss ku Tamil theriyadhu” and the class erupted in laughter and giggles.
A student picked up a book from the shelf at the back and showed me the colourful pages with lots of animals in them. I asked him to tell me the animal names in English, to which he said “theriyadhu”. After I taught him the animal names, he taught me all the animal names in Tamil, even corrected my pronunciation, at the end telling me, “very good” with a giggle and mischievous smile.
How do we build the bridge?
I use teaching aids so they could associate visually. I show pictures and videos on the laptop. Using gestures and pointing or showing objects that I talk about. Flashcards with small colourful words. I made it a point to have as much colour and pictures in all the learning material as possible.
After giving instructions or teaching something, I ask the children to show me a thumbs up if they understood or a thumbs down if they didn’t. If they don’t understand, I ask a child to repeat them. I call on a student who is more comfortable with English and can help their friends. One important rule that I try and encourage is to try and talk in English during class. I always tell the children that it’s okay to make mistakes, we are all here to learn.
Repeating words or instructions helps them. After a while, they even repeat it themselves. “How are you?” was a very foreign phrase for them. I would ask them that every day, before every class. Initially, I wouldn’t get responses but over the weeks, they would respond, “I am fine.” What took me by surprise was that they started asking me “how are you, miss?” on their own.
Communication is a two-way street
One parent approached me when she came to take her daughter home, we had an entire conversation, her speaking only in Tamil and me in English. She told me that they began speaking English at home to help her child understand better in class. She told me that it is difficult, but her daughter is understanding better now. That was all the reassurance I needed to know that I was not in this alone.
From a classroom of blank expressions to children now understanding simple instructions in English, we have made a lot of progress. I get very excited, appreciate, and applaud when the children understand a new instruction or understand what I say, to which the children also reply with thunderous claps.
About the Author
With a degree in Social Work, Oindrila understands the need to overcome social constraints and provide holistic and equitable education. She loves coffee, books, animals and making bad jokes. When she feels social, she loves to explore Chennai and the Southern culture.