You know how I actually came to learn English? I studied in a school where speaking in English was compulsory and if you didn’t, you could be punished or fined. But within our groups, speaking in English was a taboo. None of us was too confident, hence it was awkward to start with. Whoever spoke a little more English than others, was sure to be made fun of.
“Achha.. Bohot Angrezi aa gai hai?” (Have you learnt to speak English now?)
English was the only paper which I looked forward to preparing and appearing. I did not like the casual attitude that people had for the subject; making it appear like it was easy and it didn’t matter. For me, it was a different science to work on English. I’ve had similar (but a little lesser) affection for other languages too. Although I always scored the highest in English, speaking in the language was a different ballgame. Most grammar teachers were very strict and child-beaters for some reason. So there was nothing to learn over there.
I used to write diaries since 4th grade. In my absolutely rubbish English (which I didn’t care for) mixed with Hindi words, writing the diary was the best utilisation of an hour in the day. Also, I had forbidden everyone from reading my diary, and it worked because I didn’t have any siblings. So this was like a royal secret. Today, these are highly embarrassing pieces of my heritage that I have to protect to death.
I remember this one, young teacher (out of the mostly older ones), who had suggested that if we want to learn English better, we should carry a small diary with us. And keep noting down new words that we come across, with their meanings. This was right before the Diwali vacation. I thought the idea was interesting, so I during vacations, I had made small diaries for myself, for the same purpose. I had even bookmarked it separately from A to Z. I think I was cute. That’s where the fascination for the language began. It also made me a curiously young note-taker.
Another thing is that I used to love watching cartoons. Sometime in 4th or 5th grade, the usually Hindi dubbed version of Cartoon Network suddenly became English! It was scary to start with. I stopped watching TV for a few days but later, having left with no option, had to begin watching again. It definitely helped me in a greater way.
When my sister (cousin but closest) shifted to Dubai, I started writing letters to her and my aunt. They would appreciate my writing and effort. Several years letter, my closest best friend was to notice my writing skills in the letters that I wrote to her. And I started writing essays and poems. This was still just open to her review, no one else could see it.
Although reading books seriously happened very late, I had gotten into the habit of reading newspapers early on. I used to wake up and see my grandpa reading one on his bed with legs crossed and hands on his lap. I would slide between his arms and his lap, like a puppy and read what he was trying to read and ask him infinite questions about everything I didn’t understand, which was basically everything.
Speaking in English came only, during college. In spite of my liking for Arts, I took Commerce because of course, Arts was unthinkable for someone who had scored more than 85% in boards. I knew that my vocabulary was good and grammar too, speaking in English was intimidating, especially with people from better schools. And everyone was pretty much from a better school where they had debates, elocution, theatre, and what not.
It took me a year to even participate in one elimination round. The first contest I appeared for in the first year was the elimination round of personality contest (like a silly person) and obviously, I didn’t get selected. In the second year, my best friend signed me up for a debate competition, without telling me. I got selected too. That was a turning point. During the second and the third year, I participated in everything I had always thought I could never do. It just liberated me.
It’s quite bewildering how good English speaking and confident communication can take you places these days, and how the lack of it can make everyone around unfairly judgmental. There was a time in college when I had become a Grammar Nazi, trying to correct everyone’s mistakes and such irritating things. I regret doing that, until this day. I keep a tab on this bad habit even today and resist the urge.
Unless it is a part of your job, why seek an incredibly narcissistic perfection in English, which is your colonizer’s first language? We must remind ourselves that a language is primarily meant to communicate and express emotions. It is okay to politely correct someone but at least here in India, the people whom you mentally downvote as stupid and unintelligent just because they make grammatical errors in the English language could be experts in some other language or a topic that you may have no idea about.
Although I feel the obsession for English is a colonial and now global inferiority complex, over the years I’ve perhaps started to think in English. Whatever the case may be, I have no guilt and take no pride of the same. It’s called adapting to your surroundings, whichever person has to do. But going down the memory lane with it, was a nice experience. What’s your story with English or a new second language? Would love to know.