Priya’s Language Journal

Language of your host country.

The languages spoken in India really depend on the given region and person. The national language is technically Hindi, but most people (if not all) speak a regional language along with Hindi and varying degrees of English. Hyderabad’s local language is Telugu, a major one in Andhra Pradesh. I don’t know any Telugu and can’t read the script, but most people here can speak Hindi and many are proficient in English. The cosmopolitan areas of the city (the mall, nice restaurants, most offices) have many English speakers, while the villages like Lingampally and Gopanpally use Telugu primarily. It’s often hard to get by in these areas without some help from a friend.

The English-speaking areas are much more comfortable to get around in, although it’s not always a walk in the park. The accents here run thick, making it hard to understand some people. The consonants are especially hard to tell apart and many people use them interchangeably. In my brief study of Hindi, I’ve noticed that some consonants (b and v, m and n, sh and s, th and dh) are really similar in look and sound. It takes a little while to understand exactly what someone with a thick accent is saying, and even longer to try to adjust your voice so that they will understand as well. I’ve found that if a native Telugu or Hindi speaker can’t understand what I say, slowing down and drawing out important sounds (hard consonants) helps to clarify.

I find the vocabulary used really amusing, especially since I’m concentrating on English at school. So many English-speaking Indians are really well versed in the language but have little quirks that make you think twice about what they’re saying. For instance, many use “more” and “less” as synonyms for “higher” or “lower” and “better” or “worse.” And my favorite is the constant use of “very,” even in sentences where it’s unnecessary. A shopkeeper will say that a scarf is “very more quality” and “very less price,” therefore I should buy it. It makes sense when you think about it but it takes a second to sink it.

In Hindi, the word sabse (sub-say) is used before a description to indicate “-est,” the most something. For instance, sabse sundar larki is the prettiest girl, sabse accha dost is the best friend, sabse milansar kutta is the friendliest dog, and so on. I’ve heard a lot of Indians use “most” in this way, adding it to things in which it’s already implied. I’m a grammar nerd, so this bugs me a little. It’s less bothersome in the books I’ve (tried to) read. One of the highlights of my travels was finding a Hindi copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince in a Delhi bookstore. I’m excited to read it because I might actually understand the simple vocabulary and sentences. It acts as a great example of cultural crossover and the fluidity of languages across national borders.

Learning Hindi is tough, tough, tough. It’s not only a whole new grammar, but a new script system to go along with it as well. It goes very slowly at first because the basics are the most foreign to grasp. I wasn’t able to form a cohesive sentence with confidence for the first month of classes and I still get nervous when trying to converse with a native speaker. I’m sure the same hesitation and difficulty applies to immigrant students in the U.S., especially those with little English experience.

The most important tool in helping foreign students adapt to a new language is patience. It takes a long time to learn something so huge as a method of communication. If someone expected me to speak after the first week, I would freeze up and become silent. It’s really nerve-wracking to try to put your thoughts into a different language and express yourself adequately. We have to be patient and help immigrant students and their families become familiar with the language and cultures of the U.S. Xenophobia (fear of new people) seems to lie dormant in many of our international relations and daily lives. In order to help out those who are new to the U.S. and English, we have to welcome them into our classes, neighborhoods and families, lending them our time and care.

Having even the most basic knowledge of a different language helps in so many ways to enrich your experience. Rudimentary Hindi helped me survive on trains, in shops, in cities and in villages. It’s this same experience that acts as practice for your language skills. Read every sign you find, incorporate short phrases into your conversations, practice your language wherever you go. Even if it’s difficult, you’ll come to value the new way of thinking over the risk of miscommunication. This is true of any language you learn and the benefits will last your whole life.

Speaking a foreign language is really rewarding, especially if it’s one outside of your familiar language group. I took Spanish classes in high school, which were fun but not too difficult. On the other hand, Hindi was super difficult at first but helped me a lot in understanding the culture here. Knowing additional languages helps you get a closer relationship to the local people and the greater culture. I know my experience of India would be totally different if I hadn’t had the experience of struggling with Hindi and pushing through conversations with locals. Plus, I’m excited to come home and use my new skills in certain places, like Indian restaurants and stores. Languages open up doors to new experiences wherever you are.


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