There is a possibility that if you understood more than one of the above greetings, you speak or know more than one language. In India, it is likely that you are proficient in speaking, reading and writing in more than one language.
The greetings above – in order – are English, Kannada, Hindi, Spanish and Russian.
Thanks to the colonial nation that ruled us, quite a few Indians belong to the bilingual community. More often than not one being their native language and the other being English, Hindi, Sanskrit or any other dialect from the region they belong.
I belong to the multilingual community.
You will often find me constantly switching languages, mixing them and using them. This is what i think being multi lingual is.
As a matter of fact, the way i learnt languages is a bit different (and strange) from the general manner in which people learn languages. Or maybe i haven’t come across enough people of my kind to call it common.
I am a south Indian, born in North India. You would expect me to know a south Indian language through my infancy or technically ‘the language acquisition period’. Actually, thats not how it is. The first language i learned was hindi. Now why exactly was that the case? To say the least – its complicated. I spent around first seven-eight years of my life in constant, blissful ignorance of my mother tounge (Not bragging). The second language i learnt was English. The administration of the first school i attended were persistent that students have conversations in English. Today, this might seem normal, but back in the 90s English wasn’t that common among the middle class folks and so, special steps were taken to ‘help’ (read force) kids to learn and understand English.
It was a great shock to me when I moved to Karnataka along with my family at the age of seven, equipped with two languages, both of which behaved as barriers and not bridges of communication.
As a part of my new school’s curriculum, we were supposed to be learning to read, write and understand three languages.i.e., English, Hindi and Kannada. Though it was my mother tongue, I – and I speak for my brothers too – found it extremely difficult to learn Kannada. At that age i could only comprehend Kannada as the alien who came to destroy peace and happiness of my life (I am sure the south Indian majority felt the same about Hindi). Since majority of my classmates spoke fluent kannada and small phrases in English, having normal conversations with classmates became stressful. Classmates, teachers and the general staff at school were very kind. I don’t remember anyone being rude to us cause we didn’t speak the local dialect. In addition to the oral tests and dictations, it was an actual pain to exchange thoughts and ideas. A miniscule population of kids who also spoke hindi in my class were life savers. As we grew, my classmate’s english vocabulary also grew and so began small exchange of ideas. Remember in the last para, when i said – special steps were taken to help kids to learn English – one of them were fineing students as young as eleven years old, if found/heard speaking a language other than English other than during the respective language classes. There were other reasons too but this was one of the reasons why I didn’t learn how to speak in Kannada in middle school. Though not strictly implemented, it did have an influence in the manner in which students communicated with each other. This concept confuses me. It seemed to be both preposterous and practical (Can anyone shed light on this concept?).
Coming back to what we were on, English and Kannada were mandatories until grade seven, after which we were given an option to choose anyone language among Hindi, Kannada and Sanskrit. Of course i choose Hindi. The amount of relief I felt on crossing the threshold from grade seven to grade eight was tremendous. When I look back, its sad that I thought of it this way. Whole of my high school passed in blissful absence of the ‘Kannada alien’. It did not completely vanish, at times it peeped and crawled at shops, at bus stations, at family gatherings, in small talks, etc., Situations that weren’t hard to manage with basic Kannada knowledge.
The absolute breakthrough came about when i joined college. I don’t know how or why, but i found myself surrounded by and befriending people who were proficient in speaking more than one south Indian language. And just like that, within a year or two, i learnt Kannada and Telgu! Thanks to my awesome friends, who repeatedly laughed at my attempts and corrected my petty errors. Now i was no longer a bilingual, i could proclaim myself to be a multilingual.
Around this time, foreign language courses were introduced in my college, as an extra curricular course. I chose to get enrolled for the Spanish course. Due to various factors the course ended abruptly. I kept on it, enhancing my Spanish through various online apps (Duolingo), tv shows / short movies (like Narcos and Mi vida loca) and tutorial videos on YouTube. I wouldn’t say i have gained a mastery over this language as the others, but its been great pleasure learning.
Then came in Russian. I knew as a matter of fact that a great number of people speak Russian and that Russia is one of the most powerful and technologically advanced countries in the world. This did not interest me back then. While i was watching ‘House of cards’, a number of episodes were dedicated to showcase the political relationship between USA and Russia. This sparked in me an interest to learn Russian but i kept pushing it off citing various reasons to myself. But the real trigger came when the last episode of ‘Sherlock S4’ released or should i rather say leaked. I downloaded the video, blindly assuming it to have English audio. To my surprise, on playing the video, i couldn’t understand a thing, it was all gibberish to me cause the dubbing was in Russian. After forty-five minutes of fruitless search for English subtitles, i watched the whole episode with the mute on. The very next thing I did was open a Google page and typed in ‘Learn Russian basics’. Here in started my journey to learn Russian. I am still a beginner and I love the thrill of knowing and accepting the meaning if a word i did not even bother acknowledging a few moments ago.
Lately, i have been doing some research on multilingual personalities and why & how people learn different languages. This is one of the good talks i came across during my research.
“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”
To the people who have taught me different languages and to the ones who have been patient while i learnt it, thank you.
Languages i know in bits and pieces Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam. Hoping to add a few more of these in the coming years.
Any multilinguals out there?
Cheers to the thrill of learning new languages!