You know the saying about how the journey is part of the gift? Well, I’ve been trying to use that philosophy to teach my kids Hindi.
My mom forced my siblings and me to learn Hindi when I was a kid. In fact, she colluded with her friends to start a Hindi school that started off rotating among our living rooms each week, until eventually enough other moms forced their own kids to attend and we rented a few classrooms in the local high school on Sundays. We managed to get them to agree to finish up in time for us to watch the Browns games, but that’s about all we got out of the deal. Well, I suppose we did also gain fluency in Hindi.
Anyhow, flash forward a generation, and I must confess that I haven’t managed to teach my kids any Hindi. Seriously, if it’s not a type of food, they don’t know it. They once used to be able to count to ten in Hindi, but I doubt they can even do that.
(Side note: In case you want to learn the numbers to thirteen, here’s a cheesy song from the ’80s that can help)
I know it shouldn’t matter. We’re American, after all. They’re born and raised in Cleveland, and were it not for the color of their skin, nobody would even know. (Well that and their names.) At least, that’s the prevailing logic in this household. Any attempts to teach them their ancestral language are deflected and dismissed. They will learn if and only if they choose to learn. Which, regardless of my own opinion, I have to respect. Right? I can’t be heavy-handed; I can’t know better. No, as independent thinkers, they are stewards of their own futures.
So I ask you this. If I were to attempt to engage them in an activity that they do enjoy, one that has a side-effect of inadvertently instilling some knowledge in them, is that being devious or genius?
I’m designing a game. A Hindi-language learning game. My boys love Ascension, so the preliminary idea was to build off that model. I folded and cut sheets of blank paper into sixteenths, and created three types of cards: Consonants, Vowels, and Words. See, Hindi is a phonetic language, so words are assembled by putting together consonants and vowels all tied together with a line on top.
I made a bunch of these cards, chose a bunch of words, and tried fixing the rules: everyone gets eight consonant cards and two vowels. Five words are shown face up in the middle. On your turn, you draw five cards from your pile and try to use the letters to make one of the displayed words. If you do, you get the card and a new one is displayed. The player who collects the most cards wins.
It worked with a few word cards, so I made some more. Then I enlisted my kids to help; not to play and learn Hindi, but to test the rules of the game.
What we learned was that there are too many letters and that rounds could go by without the right combination of letters and words. And without some success, games lose their appeal.
So the next time, we decided to display five words and three shared vowels each round, and then each player uses five consonants. And they get to draw a consonant each round.
Again, same problem. What if we can keep adding cards and can use all the cards each turn? I drew the consonants on the corner of each card so they’d be visible even if fanned out. And I want the option of cards held in hand in case we want to play in a car or on a plane or some other confined space.
So as of now, this game is imperfect. Certainly not anywhere close to introducing to a larger market (or even ready for hiring a graphic designer to make the cards out of anything nicer than printer paper). This is so crazy early in the design process I don’t even have a name for it.
But I’m not doing this for financial success. I don’t have a background in game design, and frankly, at the moment, I see that as a positive. Because it’s the process that’s engaging my boys, not the content. And I’m hoping that during our shared activity of designing an engaging game, they learn a bit of Hindi along the way. And if that doesn’t happen, well, I suppose that’s fine, too.