An interview is a process that has been in vogue since time immemorial to learn facts from another person regarding his experiences, opinions and conclusions on a specific topic. And it is precisely this methodology that I was advised to adopt to understand the viewpoint of others regarding multilingualism in the preschool environment.
The process posed certain difficulties for me initially; mainly due to the topic of my research, and the paucity of research on this topic in the Indian subcontinent. As mentioned earlier, my topic of interest was multilingualism in the preschool environment, and this is a topic that is not given too much importance in India, with the traditional idea of the efficacy of monolingualism being accepted here and hence followed in most schools. Bound by time constraints, I was not sure if it would be possible for me to zero down on professionals who were active in this field. The search was a tedious one; with long hours on the internet, on the telephone and also by word of mouth; and ultimately I was able to locate two individuals who agreed to be interviewed; for which I would have to travel approximately 1000 km away from home.
I was indeed lucky to be able to contact them in time and get assurance that they would be available for me at such a short notice. My interview with them was face to face; with a set of questions that could be shuffled around as per the situation and answers. Flexibility in the interview process is extremely essential; and I ensured that the prepared questions did not follow a strict sequence so that I could respond to the answers appropriately and frame the next question that would be related to the previous answer of the interviewee.
I am of the opinion that I conducted myself well during the interview; with appropriate introduction of the self, frequent eye contact, an interested and responsive body language, and pertinent questions that were able to drop the guard of the interviewees and make them respond amicably. Agreed, there were instances of pauses as I pondered over their answers and framed the next question in my mind; but those were comfortable silences that did not impede the communication. One challenge was being confident; and the first interview saw me slightly nervous and awkward initially, making me miss out on probing questions that would have led to ‘in-depth’ answers; but I caught on quickly and was soon asking pertinent questions. I came to realise that a good interviewer needs to multitask; she has to ask, listen, think and talk all at the same time!
My interview with both the interviewees reinforced my belief in multilingualism to be the key to proper learning in the preschool stage. Education in multilingual classrooms should be based on the immediate surroundings and daily life; as that is what children relate to most, being exposed to it since birth. Paulo Freire, a critical pedagogue, states that it is indeed important to connect the learning process with the regular life proceedings of the children as this makes the content more accessible to the students; and they connect to these more and thus learn more, becoming critically conscious. Research has also proved the necessity for teachers to reach out to students and their families to comprehend their personal lives, their native languages, their beliefs, the culture that they follow, and so on, so that they may frame the curriculum and the teaching strategies accordingly (Florence, 1998; Freire & Macedo, 1998; hooks, 1994; Shor & Freire, 1987). Ease of communication between teachers and parents aid the students in a multilingual setting; and allow both teachers and students to gain to the optimum level.
Other than acquiring knowledge in a comfortable atmosphere, multilingualism also helps to develop a child’s theory of mind. The theory of mind is the capacity to comprehend not only one’s belief, desires, knowledge and relate them to those of others; but also to gain awareness of the fact that these vary from person to person. As social beings, children are exposed to the wide world around them, leading them to understand that the opinions, thoughts, beliefs and lifestyles of people around them may be different from that of theirs. Multilingualism aids in the development of this awareness; and is the stepping stone to acceptance of others; and the development of social cognition and theory of mind.
Keeping all these factors in mind, adopting a narrow policy of monolingualism in a country like India with people speaking various languages and following different cultures will be detrimental to the development of children; who will devote their crucial years in preschool to just learning a language, and not in gaining the knowledge that is being conveyed through it.
My journey in this course has been a fruitful one till date; beginning with identifying the challenge area; mine being multilingualism in the preschool setting. Annotated bibliographies of scholarly, peer-reviewed research articles followed; all of them related to my challenge area.
The first week saw me reviewing articles that deal with family and culture as related to multilingualism. I gained awareness that the policy of adopting ‘one person, one language principle’ was definitely beneficial; with the child learning multiple languages in the process, and learning to communicate in all too. The importance of one’s home language was brought to the forefront; with it being explained in no uncertain terms that children should become adept at their native language first before they attempt an alien language like English. Communication in English at home with the sole purpose of teaching the child to converse in it and understand it may jeopardize the relationship between parent and child, and create uneasy familial ties.
The second part of the annotated bibliography was on research articles that deal with communities and societal dynamics. Perusal of the articles created awareness in me of the importance of interactions between children belonging to different cultures and speaking different languages. Exposure to these differences leads the children to the realization that those who speak differently or behave differently should not be judged adversely; thus making these children more adaptable and with the ability to respect all inspite of the diversity. Prejudices which were based on ignorance are removed, and this is a direct result of the multilingualism in the classroom.
Part 3 of the annotated bibliography was on scholarly, peer-reviewed research articles that deal with the stress, trauma and risks associated with monolingualism in the preschool classroom. Adoption of a single language policy in such classrooms may lead to quicker learning of the language; but the negatives far outweigh the positives; mainly in the context of mental health. Inability to respond in class where only an alien language is being spoken inhibits a child; causes stress and trauma; and may scar him for life. Shyness adds to the trauma; and the inability to vent out feelings, ideas, and opinions in a language one doesn’t know properly makes the entire schooling process unpleasant. Additionally, children of depressed mothers lag behind in developing communication skills due to less practice as these depressed mothers seldom speak with their children; and that too, inconsistently.
One question that I have regarding the above topic for which I would welcome feedback is the following:
- How may we involve parents in promoting multilingualism in the classroom?