A Way With Words: Father and Daughter Team Create a Vocabulary Program
Manisha Kaura really likes words. “It started in the fourth grade,” she says. “I collected words and made notes about them in little spiral notebooks. In my study room back home in Michigan, there’s now about 700 of them.”
One’s first impression of Kaura is she is very polite, extremely intelligent, even wise beyond her years. But as the conversation drifts into the passions that drive her life, the senior economics major reveals layers that would make an onion cry, including an incurable case of vocabularymania. Yes, there is such a word, derived the Latin voc (meaning word). For those interested in such things—and no one is more interested than Kaura—voc is also the root for the words evocative, vocal and advocate.
And those three words describe one of Kaura’s many missions—the production and promotion of Rockin’ Root Words, a comprehensive vocabulary textbook she wrote, and “Vocab Tunes,” a series of music videos featuring the same word-building concepts.
More layers. “I was on a linguistics scholarship at Ohio State. But when I got there I fell in love with political science and education advocacy. But I transferred to Xavier in 2012. I needed to be in a more spiritually centered community. The Jesuit spirit really seeps through.”
Which brings us back to vocabulary development. “It’s my life’s passion. It’s something I plan on dedicating my life to. I’d like to see ‘Vocab Tunes’ improve test scores and help overcome the inequities we see in teaching and parents. A lot of in-need children don’t have parents they can have a close relationship with.”
And that’s where her father, Dr. Sitaram Kaura, fits in. What started as a daughter and father studying English together has evolved into a company in which the daughter’s the CEO and dad’s the president. In fact, he’s the one that got this big ball of words rolling. He recalls that learning English, and studying medicine had a lot in common—namely Latin. “English was my second language growing up in India,” he says, “but I also learned a lot of Latin and Greek studying medicine. English is a beautiful language and a large percentage of the words are very organized.”
The Kauras’ family story embraces the American Dream, but on an international stage. “My mom is Indian but was born and raised in New York,” says Manisha. “She was raised in an Americanized life and steeped in multi-cultural values. My dad emigrated from India to Michigan in his 20s.” And he was determined to give his daughter every opportunity succeed.
Manisha was enrolled in a prep school where students were inundated with hundreds of vocabulary words weekly and groomed to get very, very good SAT scores. And she did. “But I was really annoyed with the way we were taught. My parents didn’t speak English as a first language, so it was hard for them to review the words to make sure I got everything right.”
Dad and daughter found their true calling when Manisha did what most kids avoid at all cost—asking Dad to help her study. Dad decided to dive back into the roots of English with a vengeance. So they made it their hobby.
“We started intensively studying both etymology and the languages themselves,” she says. “And we acquired excellent reading and writing efficiency in both ancient Greek and Latin. And we were able to compile several manuscripts. There were just notes. My impressions as a student, and his impressions as a parent. So for us it was mainly an intensive reading and studying process.”
From that process, Rockin’ Root Words was born. And what some might consider drudgery, Dr. Kaura cherishes as a family memory. “We worked on the book for more than 10 years—vacations, holidays, weekends.”
Some of Dr. Kaura’s less-than-rosy memories include the struggle to get their book printed. “When we got done, we tried to send it to publishers, and as usual, everyone rejects you. One gifted book publisher agreed to publish the elementary and middle school book, but not the high school book. So we edited the words down and from that created the Rockin’ Root Words.”
The book has had successes, including being printed in four languages. The Kauras return to India every year, and Manisha recalls one of her proudest moments: “I spent one summer working at the Punjabi Board of Education. They were actually using my book, and I saw the little girls studying from my book.”
And they’re not done yet. In addition to the book and videos, there’s now an app for that on iTunes, along with the book, manual and a DVD that can be used in the classroom in development.