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Sunday, April 19, 2015

I see the parrot sound

This is how one of the student in the Sapience Montessori spoke in his early attempt of conversing in English at the end of first year. In India, a child normally speaks in his mother tongue which is different than English. His English conversation therefore starts in a set up of Montessori, either at the end of the first year, or at the start of second year.

How can a child, whose mother tongue is not English, converse in foreign tongue of English in one year. Montessori makes this possible by using three tools:

1. Adults converse with children in English from Day 1: At the age of 3, the child is absorbing language. This is how he learns his mother tongue from his parents. The same method is used with English. For instance, all instructions like 'please tie apron' or 'please pick the pounding material', 'please take the chair for eating' and so on are spoken in English. However, as the child does not understand English at all, after every English instruction, the instruction is converted into his/her mother tongue so that the child can understand. With every passing day, the child is more and more comfortable in English.

2. Increase his English Vocabulary by 100 words a month: As the child is getting comfortable with English, he is introduced to English words for all the normal objects he sees in the house. For instance he is introduced to objects in the kitchen, bathroom, living room. He is introduced to names of games, cars, trucks and other water vehicles, musical instruments. Animals, vegetables, fruits are other normal categories introduced to the child. With his vocabulary of English increasing every day, the child is ready to speak in English

3. Mistake-tolerance created by Montessori environment: When the child is going to speak English, he is going to make mistakes, infact lot of them.It is therefore important for the child to not feel embarrassed with his mistakes and continue to try to 'speak' even if it is wrong. Mistakes, instead of creating guilt, should be the source of finding one errors quickly and then correcting it.

Whatever mistakes are known to the child are due to the self-corrective nature of most of the material. Child knows her mistake through control of errors like that are designed in many activities such as when the pounding spills on the oil cloth, or water spilling. And when a mistake is committed by the child, the adult is not supposed to 'tell' this to the child. Montessori creates this environment where mistakes are not even 'commented', leave alone 'punished'. Mistake tolerance is Montessori's unique contribution to the development of the child which allows the child to take on challenges without the fear of losing their self-respect.


By the end of first year, the child has the confidence to 'speak' in English and knows 'sounds' of many objects. In the second year, the child learns to 'construct' words from the sounds of object. This word creation and construction of simple sentences - Noun and verb - enables him to 'write' English.

In the third year, the child is introduced to Grammar ( Noun, Verb, Article, Adjective, Adverb) so that he can decipher 'long' sentences'. By the end of third year therefore, a child in Montessori can 'read' English and understand it. It is called 'Total reading" in contrast to 'Mechanical reading'. Mechanical reading is 'reading' each word without understanding the sentence.

And this starts the 'next' virtuous cycle of the child. Because the child can 'read' books, she enjoys reading. That in turn increases her vocabulary. Which in turn makes it easy for the child to 'speak' and converse. This in turn increases her 'subject knowledge'. And on and on.

Putting in your child in the virtuous spiral of  language is the best way to ensure that the child becomes 'smart'. I do not know of any method of education, apart from Montessori method, which teaches language like English as beautifully. But if you can initiate this spiral with  your mother tongue - Hindi, Marathi, or Kannada - this also helps the child equally well. The child should however be introduced to the literature of mother tongue fairly early.

In short, learning language for the child is not just about communicating. But it is about opening up his windows and doors for more and more learning which can be 'powered' by the child himself. 

Photo credits: YIM-Hafiz / Flickr

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