Receptive Bilingualism

Speak Marathi
2 min readAug 13, 2020

When our children are born, we talk to them in our native tongue. We teach them to call their grandparents Aaji-Aajoba, we sing them lullabies in Marathi, and we feed them Varan-bhaat.

But as they grow up and have extensive contact with the outside world, they shy away from Marathi. These children, in their forming years, first start speaking and understanding their native language at home. When they start school, a shift takes place. Over time, children will slowly grow out of speaking their mother tongue but will continue to understand it.

This is a phenomenon called Receptive Bilingualism.

A receptive bilingual is a person who has had native-like exposure to a language, usually during their childhood, but cannot actively speak the language.

Right from the moment children step out of their homes, every interaction is in English. All the media they consume is predominantly English. This contributes to them slowly losing confidence in their native language skills. Around the time they enter their teens is when they start to notice cultural differences between their household and that of society. They may slowly start to disassociate with their culture.

Parents may find it exhausting to constantly correct their children and encourage them to continue a conversation in Marathi. After all, it is much easier to talk in English.

The good thing about being a passive speaker is that even if they cannot speak the language very well, they are well versed with the nuances after having a lifelong exposure to it. Their language skills can be worked upon and they can eventually become native-like speakers.

We know for a fact that this is the case with many Marathi families who have settled outside the country. Their children have a hard time speaking Marathi, or lack the confidence to hold conversations. They can usually understand everything that is spoken, but are unable or unwilling to respond in the same language.

We see this in our clients, a lot of whom are children of native speakers and are interested in reviving their spoken Marathi skills. With enough attention, guidance and learning in a relaxed environment, they are able to quickly gain confidence to converse with their loved ones in Marathi.