Sunday, June 14, 2020

Tryst(?) With Languages

Learning new languages isn't exactly one of my strengths, probably because I have till now never been keen on it. I can speak fluent, good English and Tamil, with the latter being my mother-tongue. If you have been following my blog, I am an enthusiast of the intricate beauties in the languages I already know, and even have put up a couple of posts on my stark admiration for Tamil poetry. English has always been a language that I grew up to be comfortable with, thanks to the many wonderful books that I got to read since my childhood (you can find a list here, if you want). 

In English, I always knew what's the right way to say a phrase, or use a term, in the apt sense without knowing any grammar behind it. I may not be a wizard when it comes to defining the grammar of this language, but I am extremely comfortable with any level of writing or vocabulary- because years of reading have given me that confidence to understand in practice what the structure of the language is, and hence I can make out context pretty easily when I read something. And, if you keep reading then what was just a contextual understanding becomes concrete in your mind. So, that is how English primarily works for me. I may not be able to tell you why something is correct or wrong, but I can sure well tell whether it is right or not. To me, this language is highly instinctive. 

Tamil is a natural confidence for me, because it is my mother-tongue. I studied Tamil as my second language in school for ten years, and that exposed me to a lot of prose, poetry, grammar, and all the lovable intricacies of this language. I can obviously speak fluently, but I don't think I can ever be a graceful Tamil reader, though I can read and comprehend the language. I have never, and probably would never, picked a full-length Tamil book to read. 

I learnt French through a course in school, and I learnt quite a bit. You can see my learning here, if you are interested. I was doing well, and was really interested, but unfortunately I couldn't do the second level of the course. So, I just ended up learning a wide base of fundamentals of the language, enough to understand and relate to a lot of the French expressions in English novels! I hope I pick it up again some day. Poirot's mon ami was a constant bait for me to study this language. 

I had Spanish in college during my first three semesters. I learnt something in the first semester. But, the other two were a wash out. This was the most useless of all the attempts I have ever made to learn a language. Probably a law school is not the best place to have a compulsory language class. Neither were the faculty interested, nor were the students, so there was 0 learning. Or, maybe 0.00001% learning. Basically, the same. So, my Spanish is just as good as me catching the meaning of viva la vida

The final one, of course, is Hindi. This is the funniest. I wrote these Hindi exams that happen in Tamil Nadu by Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha. But, due to a clear lack of interest I left it after the first two levels. I had Hindi as my third language in school, but that was absolutely no use again. As Calvin would put it, it just taught us how to manipulate through an exam without any substantial knowledge building. Every student just hated the Hindi third-language classes, and none of us ever understood it anyway. However, one good that came out of these two experiences was that I could read and write Hindi. I just couldn't speak, because I didn't really know Hindi. 

I was unnecessarily nonchalant, so I didn't pick up this language initially. But, when I had to go to a University where nine out of my ten friends spoke in Hindi for casual conversation, I was forced to pick it up, at least in bits and pieces throughout the last three years, to make sure I understood what the hell they were talking about when I was chilling with them. Necessity can make you learn, and that's how I picked up this language. Today, I can understand Hindi perfectly well, and I can manage a conversation in Hindi, too. But, I wonder whether I would have ever picked up this language if the circumstances didn't really force me to. 

Even now, though I can understand and reasonably speak Hindi, I almost never do unless it is absolutely necessary. I get away happily with English, as almost everyone can speak English today. But, learning this language, this way, has opened up my thoughts about unnecessary nonchalance.

I think about it, and  I hope to do something about it next time it comes in the way!

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