Lost world of language!
I grew up in India. The British colonization in India is not unheard of. India gained independence in 1947 but the deep roots and the impact of colonization will be seen for generations to come. Like every kid growing up, lessons in history didn’t mean much to me apart from the inspiring stories of courage that I got to hear (You see how much I love story telling!). It is later in the adult life that I have started to understand the impact or aftermath of such stories of colonization and slavery.
The new India got free from Britishers but couldn’t let the ‘English’ language go. Over the years, ‘English’ has become the language of the world. It has become one of the most important factor to define success. If you want to be successful, you need to know ‘English’ language. One would think that if you want to succeed or survive in a predominantly English speaking country, the language is a MUST. But the sad reality is, ‘English’ has become the language of even non-English speaking countries. Coming from India, I can firmly say that in India knowing ‘English’ language is a MUST.
Up until about 5 years ago, I was a part of the same club where knowing ‘English’ language made me superior in many ways and I was proud about it. I was thankful that my parents were progressive to think that I should be attending an English speaking school to have a better future. I would flaunt my fluency in the language whenever I got a chance. Be it social gatherings or elocution or debate competitions, I would take pride that I spoke English and considered myself to be a part of this club of English speaking people who to me at that time were superior (more cool!) than people who wouldn’t speak English.
In this race of learning English, I was left far behind in learning my own language, my mother tongue ‘Gujarati’. I come from a state called ‘Gujarat’ in India and the regional language of majority of the people from this state is ‘Gujarati’. Since I went to an English speaking school since kindergarten, I only learnt my first language as an additional course during the school years. I remember that after Grade 12, there wasn’t even a mandatory course in the mother tongue.
I took pride at the time in knowing only limited ‘Gujarati’. The syllabus of this language course over the school years didn’t focus or mandate to make sure that students attain proficiency in reading, writing and speaking aspects of the language. Also, not to just blame the syllabus, if you live in India, you are just blind to this aspect of not learning your language but rather being a part of this race to know English and you just don’t care to master your own language. I clearly remember that when someone would ask me to say numbers past number ’30’ in Gujarati, I would take pride in not knowing it and would use an excuse saying “Oh! I went to an English speaking school!”
Today when I have lived in Canada and away from my hometown for a long time, I realize the value of knowing my language. I hardly get to use my language on a day to day basis. The only time now that I speak Gujarati is when I talk to my husband or friends or family in India but on an everyday basis, it is only and only English. They say you don’t realize the value of what you have until its gone and then you start missing it! I miss talking in Gujarati or even listening to people talk around me in my language. I will confess that at times now I just put up some random TV show in Gujarati and roam around in my house doing my chores. All just for listening to people talk in my language and feeling home! You have this connection with your language that makes you feel home or rather home is where you also find your language! As I now hardly use the language, I find I am also losing it. I realize that whatever of my own language I know, its broken and I struggle with difficult phrases or translations!
My job has played a huge part in this self realization of losing my language or even embracing the fact that my first language is a language different than English. I work at a Legal Clinic in Canada and due to the nature of the work and the diversity in Canada, on an everyday basis I come across people speaking a multitude of different languages. Working with colleagues who like me have a different first language made me realize that knowing your own language is not something to look down upon but rather ‘cool’ as you can communicate in more languages! (Pardon my casual language approach, just being a ‘millennial’. At least there is no lol yet! ). Working closely with the indigenous communities, I have now seen the impact of losing one’s language and the destruction it causes for generations to come.
Today when I reflect back with this realization, I regret that I didn’t understand the power and importance of knowing your own language & am heart broken that I don’t have the same fluency in my own language as in English. I obviously have better speaking skills than writing or reading in Gujarati. I am sure this is not just my story and there are millions of us out there who would agree with me that we have lost our regional language in this race of running after English language.
I feel shattered when my parents or elder ones in the family struggle to read what I write or rather I must say, I feel ashamed that I do not know my own language to communicate with my parents or elder ones in the family. I wonder if I will be even able to pass on my language to my children or will they grow up embracing ‘English’ as their language?
Every time I go back to visit India, I come back sad seeing how a language has divided our society. How knowing the language opens up the job prospects or even the acceptance into our own non-english speaking communities! A street vendor who struggles to meet his family’s needs has to know English to be able to make some business! How knowing English language can give us this power to think that the rest of the ones who don’t speak this language are inferior to us! People are insulted on national TV shows for not knowing how to spell a particular word in ‘English’! Makes me think, “Are we really independent from the British rule?”
Oh India! Let’s break this stereotype and embrace our languages! What will happen if you cannot speak or understand your own language?
Let’s not forget our own language ! Let’s not give power to a foreign language to divide us into this societal hierarchy! Let’s learn to balance what is ours and what is required to be a part of being a global citizen!