My kid speaks more Spanish than I do.
He’s not quite three years old, but he’s in a Spanish classroom at his daycare and literally knows more Spanish words than I do, thanks to my four years of high school French. It blows my mind how he and his peers can pick up complicated-sounding words in other languages and then seamlessly translate them to English.
With studies showing that children who begin learning a new language by 10 can have the fluency level of a native speaker, it’s important for many multi-lingual parents to begin teaching small children their mother tongue. And while Spanish and Mandarin classrooms are abundant, it’s harder to teach kids Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi or Hindi – especially if your spouse doesn’t speak the same language and grandparents aren’t nearby.
Thankfully the internet – and some savvy entrepreneurs – have come to the rescue with a variety of toys and apps to help your child learn:
Founded by a couple wishing to teach their kids their native languages – Punjabi and Hindi – LingoDodo’s electronic alphabet learning tablet allows modern kids to get the tablet fix they need while learning Gujarati, Hindi or Punjabi words and alphabets.
Vaishali Patel emigrated to the US when she was 16 and, once she had children of her own, wanted to pass along not only her homeland’s values and traditions, but also the language. Now, she hosts live, virtual Gujarati glasses, as well as online courses that can be done at the student’s own pace. In addition, she offers fun learning tools for children (and adults!) such as Gujarati alphabet flashcards, a travel backpack to learn about India and Gujarati and Hindi memory games.
The brainchild of a former elementary school teacher, Bhaasha Basics takes on language learning from a unique angle, combining the principles of Montessori education with the founder’s understanding that teaching can be stressful for parents. The company provides a moveable alphabet, sandpaper letters, dry erase flashcards and reading cards for both Gujarati and Hindi, as well as Sanskrit reading cards to spark the curiosity of children.
The founder of Taarimaa, Chitra, thought her Jersey-born daughter would easily learn Gujarati, her mother tongue. Chitra and her husband, who is Puerto Rican, moved away from family when their daughter was 7 months old, and she realized she was the only Gujarati speaker in her child’s life. She sought a way for both her child and her husband to learn the language and Taarimaa was born, providing board books to learn basics, such as colors, numbers and shapes, in Gujarati.
Bolo Bolo Baby
Translating to “speak, speak, baby,” this company, founded by mom of four, offers Gujarati and Hindi tracing boards and wooden calendars to help children learn how to read and write the languages – often much harder than simply learning to speak them.
Avani Nadkarni is a former journalist who currently works in tech PR and is forever navigating the tricky balance of trying to raise her child in the U.S. while teaching him about his Indian and Sri Lankan roots.