Word Magic

What is the basic role of language? If your answer is – To communicate / to Express, then i am sorry to inform that you did not score well in this test. Read on to know why.

It is customary for parents to inform us via email, if their child is going to be absent from school. One such email read – “Ananya is unable to come to school today as she is feeling under the weather.”
The last three words kept rotating in my mouth like a lollipop the whole day. Why did the parent choose these words? Was it her style to write like this? Although the email was purely informative and to the point, it tickled me in some way. Was this the writer’s intent?

And what is the role of language? Is to tickle, to stimulate, to create, to enchant, to charm?

Intrigued, I asked a random set of adults this question. What is the role of language? Why should children learn language? The response was almost unanimous “to communicate, to express”.

But when I asked a child, her reply was, “To talk to myself!”

This set me thinking. And when I was thinking I suddenly realized that I was using language to think about all this!

Suddenly thoughts about thinking, in my mind, ran like the naked Archimedes running jubilantly around in the king’s court!

We use language to THINK,
We use language to THINK,
Sometimes they link
Sometimes they stink
But whenever we blink
We use language to THINK.
Expressions slink
Communications sink
But almost the whole of our day
We use language to THINK.

This insight was almost like discovering fire. Suddenly I could COOK my FOOD. And that too in myriad ways. My stomach indeed, my whole being rejoiced at the role of language – to cook, to bake, to boil, to smoke, to grill, to fry, to even burn – thoughts in our brain.

Until now we were teaching language because we wanted children to learn how to listen, to read, to communicate, and to express. But now all that was rudimentary, just the raw material. We now wanted to teach children language because we wanted them to think.

Now the purpose of language was becoming clearer — it was to play around with thoughts, to make them wander, to wonder, to amuse, to imagine, to analyze, to twist, to change, to innovate, et al. The purpose of language was to sharpen my thinking, which would broaden my views, deepen my understanding and also make my expressions richer.

And to be able to do that, I needed to befriend language – not become a slave to its rules and grammar, and its correctness and appropriateness. I needed to play with language just as I would play with a friend. I did not need to know everything about language and grammar to befriend it. Instead, if I first befriended it and played with it, I would get to know it, not completely but enough to build a strong and fulfilling relationship.

Story Time

One day Mullah Nasruddin went to the market and bought a fine piece of meat. On the way home he met a friend who gave him a special recipe for the meat. Mullah was very happy. But then, before he got home, a large crow stole the meat from Mullah’s hands and flew off with it.

‘You thief!’ Mullah Nasruddin called angrily after the departing crow. ‘You have stolen my meat! But you won’t enjoy it; I’ve got the recipe!’

It’s almost the same with language. We seem to be giving children the meat, but not the recipe, or the fire. Language is not about the meat, but about how we cook it.

So here are some guidelines – we call them the Eight ‘E’s of verbal and linguistic intelligence:

Express We were watching a science demonstration, when I asked a child, “So, what are you thinking?” He replied, “About the birthday party I am waiting to go to in evening”. “Tell me more about it,” I said and he talked a little about it. Then I said, “Tell me also about this demonstration.” He talked to me about the demonstration as well ending with,“Uncle I want to know more about it.” Remember the air inside a a pipe needs to be let out before the water can flow in. Children need to express what they are thinking, feeling, etc. By creating such space you will value their thinking skills and give them the confidence in expressing themselves.

A man from once upon a time
Tired to make his poetry rhyme
Dictionary he tried
Thesaurus he pried
But gave up saying they’re not mine

It’s simple; get children to write, express what they experience. We need not focus on the form of language. Let us focus more on the matter (the child’s experience). If there is ME in it – it is ‘learning’ to me.


Adj:Involving many carefully arranged parts or details; detailed and complicated in design and planning.

Verb::Develop or present (a theory, policy, or system) in detail.

Usage:An elaborating teacher asked her students to elaborate on the word elaborate and their elaborated discussion made their learning elaborate.


Get children to be quiet when they are talkative and talkative when they are quiet. The idea is to first encourage children to think by asking them to stay silent and as this thinking grows to push children to talk about it in many ways. Extend this further, exchange points of view, exchange medium, what was meant to be written could be recorded instead and what was meant to be recorded could be written, what i was to review could be drawn and so on.

A One Act Play
Scene – A student goes up to the monk.
Student: I have learned language, I am ready for a test.
Monk: Can you embrace thought?
The Student hums a wordless song
Monk: Can you embrace truth?
Student: Words convey meaning.
Monk: Can you embrace lies?
Student: Meanings are beliefs.
Monk: Can you embrace ambiguity?
Student: Who are you to test me?
Monk: Can you embrace paradox?
Student: You are the richest poor I have met.
Monk: Can you embrace uncertainty?
Student: Maybe I will pass this test.

The Monk embraces the student.
Student:Truth, Beliefs, Ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty– my language has it all.
Monk: Your Life has it all – let your language mirror your life.

Both bow and leave. Curtains.

I don’t know why people think that experiments are only to do with science. Have you experimented with language? Say the auto driver is not ready to take you to your destination. Do you try your request using different words? Teach children to experiment and carefully observe the effect that certain usage of words or certain types of sentences produce. For a beautiful example read the speech of Brutus and Antony, which each of them made immediately after Julius Cesar’s assassination.

ExploreEshtyle – if you don’t have it – buy, borrow, steal.
Language is all about style; those manicured sentences daintily painted with shades of adjectives, tossed around with gaiety of prepositions, using subtle pauses to connect the said with the unsaid. Once you get style, ensure all children develop their own eshtyle – and that they flaunt it.

We realize that whether we are a language teacher or any adult who interacts with children, since language is omnipresent, we are all language teachers! So with all these ‘E’s, just ensure that the primary objective of language is to ENJOY. Enjoy what others think, enjoy what I think and what and how I express.