Her parents are speech and hearing-impaired, but far from this being an impediment, it has been an inspiration for four-year-old Isha Chikate to be trained in and actually pick up the basics of six languages including Japanese, German, Spanish, Sanskrit, English and Hindi, besides her mother tongue, Marathi.
This bright and rather loquacious girl was pushed to go the extra mile by her parents, who did not wish to see her impaired in any way because of their physical challenges.
|Isha Chikate at her residence
While learning sign language was a practical necessity for the child, her other linguistic skills were encouraged and honed at the behest of her parents and grandparents.
Isha’s mother, Madhura Chikate, a fine arts designer who works part-time with an architectural firm explained, “We were quite anxious about her development. There was a concerted effort to familiarise her with the spoken language since she was three months old.”
At this stage, her grandparents took to showing her pictures and telling her stories about it. But by the time Isha started going to PES Modern Pre-Primary School, she started showing impressive retention capabilities, retelling the stories she heard at home in school.
At the beginning of this academic year, her parents decided to expose her to more languages than the ones she already spoke — Marathi, Hindi and English.
They put her in Fairy Land Childrens’ Centre in Deccan Gymkhana, run by Neelima Ranade who works to develop linguistic, cognitive and analytical abilities of kids in the age group between four and six, and has designed an exclusive programme for this.
This June, Fairy Land started out introducing Isha to Sanskrit, which was close to her mother-tongue. Then, in phases, she was exposed to Spanish (chosen for its proximity to English) followed by German and then Japanese. Isha was taking in all four languages by August. “Isha is a brilliant child.
Her coping mechanism is commendable and in the next term, we plan on introducing her to Italian and French,” Ranade told Mirror. Little Isha smiled, “I love to surprise people with many languages. When people say good things about it to me, it brings a smile to my parents’ faces.
This makes me want to learn more!” Madhura chipped in, “We live in a joint family, and at home, Isha is constantly exposed to music, instruments, shlokas, aartis and stories, so that she never feels inept or gets singled out by her peers.”
“I am the voice of Isha’s parents. I narrate stories, explain their meaning, answer her queries and expose her to music,” said her paternal grandmother, Pramila Chikate, who retired as head of the Mathematics department of PES Modern College of Engineering.
Isha’s father Bhushan Chikate, who had his mother translating his sign language, added, “The learning graph has not been conventional for our daughter. As a family, we have always been cautious to create a speech-friendly and speech-enhancing environment for her and she has responded with immense enthusiasm. I never wanted our impairment to silence Isha’s voice.”
“She understands and accepts our differences in abilities. It is remarkable how she has picked up sign language while communicating with us and it is unbelievable to watch her swift transition to normal language while conversing with her grandparents and others,” added Madhura.
Speaking about her programme, Ranade said, “The idea was to free children from the shackles of structured education patterns, and allow their creative side to blossom. The curriculum is flexible and teaching involves story-telling, role play, acting, music, poetry, games and educational outings.
Training in multiple languages is imparted through audio-visual aids, nursery rhymes, mythological and moral stories, and more.” “Multilingualism at the age of four is commendable indeed! Children in the age bracket of four to eight are like sponges — ready to absorb as much as possible.
However, in an education system dominated by rote learning, experiments rarely find place. It is very important to keep speaking the languages learnt, as effective retention is always necessary,” said city linguist Sandeep Nulkar, who heads a private translation firm.
“More than anything, I think it is absolutely necessary to understand her psychology and make her feel empathy and respect for her parents. She should never feel left out or embarrassed,” added Isha’s grandmother.
► The curriculum is flexible and teaching is through story-telling, role play, acting, music, poetry, games
- Neelima Ranade, Isha’s guide at Fairy Land Children’s Centre