Read With Me: From ‘Naaku Raadhu’ to ‘Lee-ff’

How do you get kids to read and that too, in a foreign language? Swetha and her husband, K, demonstrate how real life contexts help the child connect with books.


How do you get kids to read and that too, in a foreign language? Swetha and her husband, K, demonstrate how real life contexts help the child connect with books.

Kids reading classes at my mom’s garden

With my childhood filled with memories of books, I believe all children should read. Sadly, in India, access to casual (non-academic) reading is restricted to the economically well-to-do families. This could be due to lack of initiation into reading as a habit, lack of appreciation of reading, or plain lack of the knowledge that reading is a pleasurable activity.

So, to do my bit, I decided to get Sathi and Santha started on reading. Since most of my reading has been in English, I decided to start with teaching them English. I have known both of them for the last 2 years. They are 5 and 8 respectively and all of us in the family know them quite well. The intention to teach them English has existed for the longest time, but, I always postponed it since I did not know where to begin. During one of my lazy days, I hit upon the epiphany that I will never know how to teach until I actually start. So, I set a date and time and informed them to be ready – Sunday, 5 PM – 6 PM.

On the day of my first class, I was extremely nervous since I did not have a strict agenda. For the control freak in me, a lack of agenda is the worst thing that could happen. Just following my mum’s suggestion, I decided to speak with them only in English through the hour. The kids landed in “class” with their school bags. So, I told them my plan in Telugu and got started speaking in English.

My questions were met with a vacant stare, and the response I got was,“Naaku raadhu” (roughly translated meaning, I can’t speak English).

When in trouble, I rely on my creativity, and that is when I struck upon an alternative plan. I decided to walk my “class” across my mum’s garden, and point to various items and narrate the names of the items in English. They repeated, with the wrong pronunciation of course.

Leaf

Leap

Lee-fff

Lee-pp

Lee-fff

Lee-fff

I ended the class with some drawing & spellings and declared the class an average in my head (I ALWAYS rate myself in everything I do). I did not lose heart and hoped the next class would be better, and once again, summoned English class on Sunday, 5 PM – 6 PM. K (the husband) joined me for the next class. Two friends of Sathi & Santha voluntarily came to our class and sat down to learn.

K took an instant liking to Mani, who as everyone noticed, was patient, creative and shy. For an 11 year old, he displayed the kind of maturity I have been seeking to achieve all my life. All kids loved playing with him; he never got bored of playing with kids half his age and never complained about anyone or anything. I asked my 4-member class who they wanted to be paired up with and the only person everyone pointed to was Mani. He could follow English, but had great difficulty conversing.

K picked up Mani’s English book and asked Mani to read a specific story. It was about the City Child and Country Child. Mani stammered, put letters together and read ahead. The other kids randomly repeated words from what he read without following much. As this continued, K egged Mani to speak about his experiences. Mani started speaking about his vacations to his ooru. He told us how much he misses the city and his friends in the village and when he is here, he misses the open spaces and the lack of routine. Thus in one sentence, Mani summed up our existential angst. He summed up the complete essence of our urban living. He explained that the grass is always greener on the other side.

It was an epiphany for me that I was learning way more from Mani than he was learning from me. I had so much to understand from Mani and his conduct – Mani was patient, treated everyone equally and led teams with utmost ease. I suddenly started enjoying my classes; because the learning went both ways and everyone had fun.

The next class I walked in and pointed to a leaf of the mango tree to Sathi & Santha and asked them what it was; I got a chorus response – Lee-fff

The classes had begun to work.

Currently Mani reads regularly from The Young World and the other three younger children read individual letters and try to string them together to say the words.

Pic courtesy: Swetha Dandapani

This is part of the August Read With Me special series on children reading for a better tomorrow. Write to us about a book reading session that you conducted with kids in the neighbourhood or kids with lesser access to libraries. 

As parents, educators, readers and writers, we know how important it is to get children – from infants to young adults – to be readers, and readers for life. And today, reading and books go much beyond a good tale. They have also become vibrant, fun and effective ways to get children to connect to themselves, their roots, accept difference, understand people and places and be more sensitive. All of August, The Alternative says Read With Me – read more and read for change.

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Swetha Dandapani defines herself as a learner. She constantly needs new challenges and new learning. She blogs sporadically here - http://stillrebels.tumblr.com more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Swetha Dandapani defines herself as a learner. She constantly needs new challenges and new learning. She blogs sporadically here - http://stillrebels.tumblr.com more
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