While English is known to be a funny language, Hindi is certainly not. Hindi is phonetic, it’s read the way it’s written. If this is so, then what could be the reason that despite spending nearly an entire academic year on learning generally a total of 47 ‘swar’ (vowels) and ‘vyanjan’ (consonants), most children struggle to read it correctly and comfortably. Is it time for educators to relook at the way they introduce Hindi reading to students in the initial two years of schooling?
The initial two years are crucial in the domain of language learning, especially for a child whose mother tongue is NOT Hindi. These are the formative years when a learner tries to understand phonics and its functions in a language. This is also the time when a child develops liking or disliking for a language based on his comfort to use it. Let’s familiarise ourselves with the 47 Hindi ‘Swar’ and ‘Vyanjan’ before we discuss it further.
Do you know what differentiates ‘Swar’ from ‘Vyanjan’? There are three fundamental differences.
Firstly, the letters that can be pronounced independently i.e., without the support of any other letter, are called ‘swar’. Whereas, the letters whose sound needs assistance from a ‘swar’ is called ‘vyanjan’. You may picture it this way:
Swar = single letter
Vyanjan = letter + swar (made of two sounds) E.g.: क = क् + अ
The second difference is that all ‘swar’ have ‘matra’ whereas ‘vyanjan’ do not.
The third and the most significant difference is that ‘swar’ usually aren’t used in the middle of the words, their ‘matra’ is used instead. E.g. अMलमारी, रतलाम .
Were you aware that Hindi ‘vyanjan’ are organised based on the place of their articulation i.e. the place from where they are pronounced? Take a look at the following table and try pronouncing them to identify the place:
|ihMdI vaNaao-M ka ]ccaarNa sqaana (Place of Articulation)|
|1. kNz||k¸ K¸ ga¸ Ga¸ =||h¸ AÁ|
|2. talau||ca¸ C¸ ja¸ Ja¸ Ha||ya||Sa|
|3. maUQda-||T¸ z¸ D¸ Z¸ Na||r||Ya|
|4. dMt||t¸ qa¸ d¸ Qa¸ na||la||Sa|
|5. AaoYz||p¸ f¸ ba¸ Ba¸ ma|
|6. naaisaka||AM¸ D\ ¸Ha¸ Na\¸ na\¸ ma\|
While learning the Hindi alphabet in its current sequence may aid memorising ‘varnamala’ easily, do you think the place of articulation would impact a child’s ability to read the letters? While most of us may be able to read a given text in Hindi, how many of us remember the sequence of ‘varnamala’? What, according to you, is more important – remembering the sequence or correct identification of the letters? And if not, should we continue to follow the age-old practice of teaching letters in the set sequence?
While learning to read, a child first learns to pronounce letters correctly e.g. क, ल, म and then to join the sounds of two letters to pronounce a word like क + ल = कल, क + म = कम. It’s noteworthy that the letters that a child encounters while reading words appear in random order and not in the sequence learning. They are taught to read two to three-letter words made with the help of ‘vyanjan’ first as this involves the simple application of the sounds learnt. Hence, a child first learns to read two to three-letter words without ‘swar’ or ‘maatra’ (bina maatra waale shabd like कल). After they gain decent fluency in it, they are introduced to reading ‘maatra wale shabd’ for e.g. काला, मीना . This implies that the application of the first 12 letters i.e. ‘Swar’, out of the 47 letters learnt by a child, happens only after he learns the application of letter 13 to letter 47 i.e. ‘vyanjan’, which is much later!
Moreover, out of the 35 ‘vyanjan’, around 25 ‘vyanyan’ appear more frequently in any text they read like क, ग, ल, न, म, ह and the remaining 10 appear less frequently such as श, ड, ध .
The above-mentioned points have compelled me to think as an educator, why shouldn’t we break free from the conventional approach and devise a system that makes the learning of Hindi simpler, faster, logical and fun for children? A method that allows the immediate application.
‘Use it or lose it’ is the brain principle, which suggests that if the knowledge gained is not applied soon, a person is likely to forget it. In light of this principle, it’s imperative that we must teach students to apply their knowledge simultaneously. In the above context, consider an approach where instead of teaching ‘swar’ first, we start teaching the frequently appearing ‘vyanjan’. Students are taught to pronounce those letters; exposed to listening to words starting with that letter; taught identification and formation of the letter and then taught to join two letters to form words. Once a child understands the method of forming words, he can easily join two, three and, four-letter words and read short narratives without ‘matra’. ‘Swar’ and its application can be introduced after a child gains decent mastery over joining letters and reading.  Eklavya, an NGO which works closely with many schools, has also tried a similar approach with proven results. Remember, applying knowledge makes learning stick invariably.