English Vinglish

Understanding & speaking the English language is an advantage. But if you don’t know it perfectly, it’s really not that big a deal. Most of the world doesn’t.

Having been born and brought up in a country mired in post colonial anxiety – India, I reached this conclusion only when living in Europe. And it’s got reinforced after moving to NYC. Amongst themselves, the French speak French, Germans – German, Spaniards – Spanish, Israelis – Hebrew, Chinese – Mandarin. Always. When a flight was cancelled at Ciampino airport, Rome and all initial announcements  were made in Italian with little concern for the non-Italian speaking types or when we had to carry little chits written in Portuguese to make our way through Brazil, it hit me (despite inconvenience of the situation) that people are deeply connected to their mother tongues, that native languages are a fundamental building block of a culture.

Which got me thinking..

1. Why are modern, liberal, educated Indians a tad apologetic (embarrassed) about their native tongues?

2. Why do we not play up, proudly, our unique multi lingual set-up for the definite advantages it affords us?

Don’t get me wrong. I love english. Like any good middle class Indian, it’s my surrogate mother tongue, encapsulating almost all of my reading & writing. My point is not in any way to be anti-english. It is merely to question the stigma attached to not knowing it well enough. Why do I see so many people laughing at “vernacular” accents while fawning over French/Italian ones? Grammar nazis who get their kicks from pointing fingers at incorrect sentence constructs, spellings, making fun of folks obviously not as erudite at english as they might be. In the words of one favorite blogger @natashabadhwar, do these people know what they say about themselves?

No one can deny the positive rub-offs of english in India. The language has opened many a door for many an enterprise & many an individual. It lends itself to global competitiveness. I also get the pet algo:  Good English = Good (read expensive) School = Moneyed Family = Status = Power. What I don’t get is why english should come at the cost of marathi, gujarati, hindi, urdu or punjabi. How often have we heard fellow Indians say “Oh my daughter doesn’t speak [plug-in any vernacular language] very well.. Yes she goes to an english medium school … We only speak english at home..”. How about a little more faith in your own language guys…just like the French or Italians you so wish to emulate?

Surely that must say something about our collective psyche as Indians? And surely the educated (as distinguished from the mere literate), well-travelled, well read amongst us understand the fallacy of these approaches?

While everyone can and should exercise his/her own choice in this matter, I feel it is a bloody good thing to know more than a single language. America is bending over backwards to ensure its children learn Spanish as a second language since studies have shown a direct co-relation between knowledge of two or more languages and sharper learning skills. We are fortunate since our country affords us a chance to not just be bilingual, but multilingual. Just as it’s a good thing to strive to be a global citizen, it’s also a good thing to know where you come from, where your roots are. Then why prioritize one over the other? Why belittle one? Why worship the other?

[Picture Source: The Australian]

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5 thoughts on “English Vinglish

  1. Speaking on behalf of the Brits, it’s quite embarrassing that most don’t have a good grasp of a second language—being fluent in a second language doesn’t feature highly on the English National Curriculum! The excuse I’ve heard most often used is that most of the rest of the World speak English, so there’s no need to learn a second language. A real pity and perhaps an unsavoury consequence of us colonizing half the world. I am Welsh and wish dearly now that I had learned to speak the Welsh language while growing up; I’m proud to be Welsh and would be even prouder if I spoke my mother tongue.

    Also, it is worth noting that English grammar is, on the whole, taught badly in UK schools. Can you imagine only knowing one language and not even being able to get that right!

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this @writerinnyc. When I was writing it, I never imagined I’d get a reply from a Britisher! You palliated a concern I had – will I sound too parochial/ territorial/judgmental. But I guess not. I’m so glad it struck a chord w you. Sent from my iPhone

  2. So following you on this point. People are greeting me for talking to the kids in Spanish. Though they answer in Hebrew, but I know they understand every single word I say.
    It’s so important to know more than 1 language… Talk to Va in Hindi

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