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Bilingual rhyme time

Bilingual Hindi

Guest Post by Pridhee Kapoor Gupta

As the warm Bahrain sun fell on me and my father, I will never forget how he sang "machali jal ki rani hai" to me while putting my hand on top of his and explaining the movement of a fish in the water. Even today when I sing this nursery rhyme to my children, I try to replicate the tune, the actions and memories. Even the ones who can’t carry a tune in a bucket will reach into their memory banks and pull out a tune from their childhood. Nursery rhymes have that lasting impact for years to come.

It also begs the question: would you rather learn about a fish through a Powerpoint presentation or through a song which will help you retain details better? The funny part is, the preference is the same for adults and babies!

Despite wanting to connect to our own children in the language of our childhood, a lot of us living outside India struggle to teach our kids our ‘mother tongue’, be that Hindi, Kannada, Bengali,Tamil or any of the numerous languages spoken across India. We send our kids to language classes, buy Indian language books for them and try to speak to them in our language at home. As parents, we have become so desperate that, despite strong screen time restrictions, we encourage them to watch Indian TV shows, with the hope that they will at least pick up the language!

So then, this is a question I posited to many folks: why not songs or just the simple use of Indian nursery rhymes?

English, Hindi or in any tongue nursery rhymes are the perfect way to introduce language and communication skills in the early years. The music, repetition, words and actions work towards the overall development of a child. These rhymes are a great resource when it comes to trying to teach Indian languages to our young ones.

We are fortunate also to have a wide variety of nursery rhymes in various languages many that date back to our grandparents and parents childhood . These have stood the passage of time for a very specific reason; children love nursery rhymes for the music, actions, and some meaningless but funny words. They find it easier to remember them and love to hum the tunes. Grandparents too remember their tunes long after they have forgotten a lot of other things, like their birthday.

For a baby, nursery rhymes are the first experience with playing with words and experiencing music. Some rhymes though meaningless are silly and funny while others are educational. They help by expanding a young one's  vocabulary and introducing them to concepts such as numbers, colors, days and more.

The beauty of these rhymes and songs is that you don’t need to set aside time to sing nursery rhymes. Anytime and anywhere works. Here are some ideas, feel free to try them at home:

  1. Sing songs when changing babies nappies, giving them a bath or during meals. All these contribute towards boosting their confidence with a new language.
  2. When you sing the rhymes, engage your child with lots of actions like claps, jumping, hopping and other actions. Adding these actions to the songs, helps them with their physical movement and to develop hand and eye coordination.
  3. The melody of nursery rhymes can also calm or excite the child as need be. You can excite the child by singing when cleaning up or eating or driving but you can calm the child down by humming the tune of the rhyme at bedtime.

How many English and Hindi or other nursery rhymes can you rattle off from the top of your head? If you are struggling with this answer, trust me all is not lost.


I felt the same when I became a mother 6 years ago. It was then I decided to compile the book Gol Mol Bol - a book of old Hindi nursery rhymes. In Gol Mol Bol, I have put together a number of nursery rhymes that I heard when I was a child.To make it easier for parents to sing it to their children, the book comes with downloadable music (by Ramya Shankar) that you can play on your phone, in your car or on your big home theatre system.

Remember, with kids it is never too late to try. They may not repeat what they hear quickly, but it all registers somewhere deep inside, and repetition along with consistency changes that. Perhaps some day when they are older, they too might pass on these songs and rhymes to their children. 

Pridhee Kapoor Gupta, a mother to two young daughters, settled in Singapore and founder of T4Tales, writes books for 0-4 year olds in Indian languages. Learn more here

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