True meaning of being multilingual

I recently  read an article about the positive and cognitive effects of raising a child in a multilingual home. This made me thinking what is the true essence of being multilingual? Is it just the ability to be able to speak multiple languages or is it much more than that?

Growing up I received the advantage of learning multiple languages. My communication skills started with learning Marathi at home from my parents. As I grew up and started interacting with folks outside home I understood the concept of society language which in my case was Hindi. As I grew up even more and started attending school I began learning to converse in English and it gave me the concept of Professional language. The key point in all these school years being that the three languages had very clear cut defined boundaries for me. I knew that my personal language with my near and dear ones was Marathi, my preferred language with my friends and society in general was Hindi and my language to impress teachers in school and get good grades was English. These clear cut boundaries made my task of context switching in these languages very easy for me.

As I moved on in my life to attend college and started living in Hostel, suddenly the time I spent conversing in my language with friends and society took precedence as I was spending more time with them. This was the phase of life when I realized and mastered the true aspects of Hindi since now I had even started conversing what I was actually feeling vs. it being a medium of just normal chit chat with friends. During this phase of life Marathi took a back seat for me as I was only using it while conversing with my parents and immediate family members while on phone with them or while visiting home in summer break.

As I moved on in life and married a non-Marathi speaker from North India I realized that now Hindi had suddenly become the language in which I could not only converse but I could even feel in it. This was the time when I had started using Hindi to express my feelings of love, anger, emotions in Hindi. Looking back I think this is one of the important aspects of actually mastering a language skill. This was the phase when the boundaries of Marathi and Hindi languages started blurring out for me and the context switching between these two much more easier even in the environment of my own home.

All this while, English was still just a medium of professional language. By this time I was married and working in IT industry in India. I would use English in all my office work, meetings etc. but it was still just a professional language and not more than that. Back in India the society language was still predominantly Hindi.

Next phase of my life began in US. As I started living here I suddenly realized how the society language for me shifted gear from Hindi to English. I was now more distant from my parents and hence during this phase the home language for me became Hindi and professional and society language English. As I stayed longer in US the boundaries of English as my society and professional language started blurring out and it started becoming much easier for me to use this as my main means of communication throughout outside my home. While in this phase of life if anyone asked me a simple question what language I prefer to speak I had a complex answer for them.  After pondering more on this question though I realized one thing that all this while I would still think or converse to my own self in my mind in Marathi. So Marathi was my real preferred language. 

About two years ago I had a baby girl and this is when the responsibility of teaching communication to her came upon my shoulders. By this time even though the boundaries of all the languages had become very blurred for me I was surprised to see that I started speaking with my daughter in all three languages seamlessly. I am determined to teach all the three languages to her and even add Mandarin to it given the importance of Mandarin in next few years. While speaking with my daughter I realized the real meaning of being multilingual. I think it really means the ability to not just speak multiple languages but rather the ability to think in them, feel in them, talk to yourself in them and effortlessly being able to context switch in them not just in one environment but in all environments.

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Being Prepared

“Being prepared……” 

I think most of first time parents like me will relate to this phrase “Being prepared….”. Having worked in the IT industry for more than a decade this phrase comes so naturally to us in our professional life. I wish we all would think in similar ways when it comes to being prepared in our personal lives.

 Few months ago I had the experience which every mom dreads – taking her child to ER. Based on my experience of this ER journey with my 2 year old daughter I decided to write this blog post to help other mommies to be prepared for the worst….

 While taking your child to ER the first and only thought in your mind is to get the medical help and attention for the child ASAP. We often do not consider the fact that sometimes we will end up spending hours in the ER room before the ER doctors can come to a conclusion of admitting your child to the hospital and assigning her a room. Below are few things which come handy while waiting in the ER for the initial diagnosis:

 1. Clean feeding bottles – 5/6

2. Instant feeding option like Pediasure

3. Child’s favorite biscuits/snacks

4. Extra pair of clothes for the child

5. Diapers – 5/6

6. Thermometer

7. Child’s comfort blanket or soft toy (something that the child usually takes while sleeping)

8. Pacifier (if a child uses one already)

9. Extra blanket to wrap the child in case they change her in hospital gown

10. Cell phone charger

11. Insurance card

 Once the initial diagnosis is done and if the child gets admitted to the room request to get a room which is not being shared by another patient. Especially important if the root cause of the child’s sickness is still unknown.

 Getting admitted to a room starts a series of multiple tests until the root cause is identified and a treatment plan is put in place. It is very important to have patience and support in this difficult time. As most hospitals only allow one parent to stay at night it is best for partners to take turns to rest at home. At the end of the day as parents we need to be healthy and able to take care of the child in these stressful moments. Support from friends, colleagues and family plays an equal important role.

 Coming back to my recent experience what I also realized that parents should be aware of urgent care facilities available in their area. These are centers where one can take a patient for first diagnosis especially if after regular pediatric hours. One such example is AM/PM Pediatrics. I have not had the chance to use them yet but quoting it here because based on what I have read about them online this is one of the after-hours pediatric facility available for parents. Having a relationship with one of such facility can save you an ER trip.

 Another thing which parents should be prepared about is which hospital ER to go to in case a need arises for the same. Both partners should have an agreed upon name in mind to avoid any unnecessary arguments on the day.

Factors to consider while making this choice:

 1. Is the hospital considered an In-network hospital by your medical insurance?

2. The distance of the hospital from your home

3. Is the hospital easily accessible by public transportation?

4. Finding out about the hospital’s patient transfer policy

5. Reading up online reviews about the hospital and it’s staff

6. Find out the hospital affiliations if situation to transfer your child to some other hospital arises

7. Find out hospitals to which your child’s regular pediatrician is affiliated to or works or visits in the week.

 When my daughter was admitted we were at a stage where the doctors were not able to detect the root cause for three days and it was at a point where we couldn’t bear to see her continue to struggle with high grade fever. We then decided to transfer her to another hospital. This was the time when we realized that transfer of patient to another hospital is only possible amicably if the treating doctor himself decides to transfer acknowledging that current hospital cannot improve the patient’s condition further. As a parent if you are not happy with the treatment your child is receiving then to transfer her you really have only two choices both of which are absurd:

 1. You can take discharge from the hospital against the doctor’s wishes by signing legal documents accepting the risk. I wonder what child services/judiciary would do if parents take this route and god forbid something happens to the child. As a result in my opinion this option is not even an option.

2. You speak with the doctor to whom you want to transfer the child and make him agree to accept the transfer. You then work with insurance and the two hospitals administration departments (the one transferring and the one accepting the patient), child care services representatives to ensure all the required paper work and approvals are in place for the transfer. This is also not so much of an option because even if you manager to do all this the Insurance process to actually send an ambulance to transfer the patient may take up to 30 business days if it is not a life death situation.

 Having gone through firsthand experience of option #2, I can vouch for how extremely difficult this task was especially at a time when all I wanted to do was to hold my baby and comfort her. I must though say that in this process I was highly impressed with Boston Children’s Hospital and especially Dr. Stuart Bauer who without even knowing us returned my call the same day and even accepted to take my daughter as his patient.

 Fortunately for us though on fourth day of our hospital stay the doctors were able to figure out the problem and the antibiotics started working and we did not have to go through the actual transfer.

 It’s been four months since this incident and my daughter is doing better. I hope this post gives all first time parents some pointers to prepare to tackle such incidents more effectively.