This post has been long overdue. I first thought about writing it when I was sitting in a bar with some of my friends. Half of us are non-native English speakers. I asked them, ‘which language do you think in?’
I wish the answers they gave me were revealing. They weren’t, all of them thought about it and then shrugged ignorance. No one knew.
I remember reaching in Auckland two years ago. I remember my first conversations. I would pause before speaking because I would get my languages mixed up. Even though I am a competent multilingual, I couldn’t think of the words. I had to translate every sentence I was going to utter from Hindi to English.
I don’t remember the time when I stopped thinking in Hindi. I wish I did so that I could give a definite answer it took for me to leave my language behind. One day when I was biking home and I was thinking of which route to take when it hit me, my thoughts were articulated in English.
When I was studying for undergraduate degree or when I started working in India, I met new people. On the basis of languages, I could categorize two types: ones who would mostly speak in English and others would communicate in Hindi. I also learned that it didn’t matter as eventually everyone who could, would revert to Hindi.
It was natural, almost instinctual amongst us. Sentences would get a motley of words from both languages; idioms roughly translated and laughed at.
It didn’t matter if I couldn’t get my message across in English, I had the safety net of just doubling down to Hindi just like my peers.
In Auckland, there are numerous times when I have to re-frame my sentences because what I said was incoherent. It wasn’t particularly because of our lingo differences, I always found it difficult to form sentences on the go while speaking. Writing, on the other hand, came naturally.
There were also numerous times when I didn’t understand what other Kiwis are saying. Sometimes they would say ‘Cheers’ as thank you and other times they would exclaim ‘Sweet As!’ to express their approval. I still don’t get the second one.
I had to relearn the programming jargon so that I could use it when I am working, or explaining my code to someone.
I am not an accurate representation of every non-native speaker or everyone has the same issues. I don’t face the same issues all the time either. There have been occasions when I was perfect and then some bad days when I would stammer and lisp my way through a conversation. Probably has something to do with my level of confidence on that particular day.
I have a lot of free time in my hands these days. My friends with whom I would spend most of my weekends are gone, and I wonder what to do with them. Sometimes I think it would be a great thing to learn a new language. I ask myself, do I need to learn a new language?
Is it even useful anymore?
Then I go to an Asian supermarket and listen to people speak their language and realize: yeah it is. I really want to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.
It was one of my first months in Auckland. I was returning home and I was sitting in the back of the bus. A group of three people were talking loudly near me and I could hear everything they said. They were talking about bacon.
‘You never have to use oil when making bacon because there is enough fat in the bacon’ one of them said. I made bacon for the first time a couple of days later.
I also looked over to the speaker and saw that he was also Indian, possibly a Kiwi national by his accent & fluency. One day, I thought.
Looking back on the different things I have done, people I have met, I know that the one day has long been crossed. English is no longer a second language, a means to illustrate my education ( India ) or a barrier ( New Zealand ).
Image Credits: Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com