Speaking In English Doesn’t Make You Cool. THIS Is What Does!

By Lata Jha:

While out for a walk in my society building last week, I was waved at frantically by a woman who was looking for directions. I could easily tell that she had been asked to come over to see if she would do well as domestic help. I pointed the way out to her and stopped in my tracks for a second when she charmingly dropped a ‘thanks’ to me in English. I’m not being patronising or pompous here, but it did unsettle me for a minute. She came back a while later, asked for further directions and thanked me the same way again with a disarming smile.

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What I noticed was that she insisted on thanking me in English while I chose to respond the entire time in Hindi. Now, this could well be categorised as cute but I think our reverence towards the English language, in general, tends to border slightly on what may not exactly be self respectful. How many times have we overheard parents at stores and theatres persistently speaking to their kids in English? When clearly, they can neither manage it themselves nor is the child old enough to respond coherently. The conversations are painfully efforted. It’s hard to tell if such labour is to prove a point to the world around or to make sure the child learns to be ‘cool’ and ‘hep’ from a young age.

Then of course, there are your own relatives who think they’ve descended from nothing less than the Alps. It’s their duty to flaunt their arduously cultivated skills in English with you. And these are precisely the same people who torment their children by insisting they speak, sing and probably even eat and yawn in English in front of guests. And let us not even waste time talking of the snobs who are ashamed of non English speaking parents.

This is also the one problem I have with convents, and schools, in general. The fact that English is portrayed as the force behind the be-all and end-all of the world. Yes, it’s important to speak the language correctly, but so are a lot of other things.

There is no doubt English is a great language. And we all know how important it is to be comfortable with and fluent in it in today’s age. It removes a lot of barriers, gives you a lot of advantages, and puts you up on a certain pedestal. A lot of things come easy then. But it’s no parameter to being cool. It never was, it never will be.

You don’t become cool by speaking to your child or your relative in English. You don’t become cool by saying you can’t speak your mother tongue. You don’t become cool by saying you only watch English films and that Bollywood is passé. Yes, we’re all fiercely limited and there’s no one who can do it all. But since when have our limitations and challenges become signs of how modern and progressive we are?

I’m sorry, but they’re not. There are millions of other languages in the world, and not one of them is inferior in any way. Neither has language ever been the road to coolness and sophistication. You’re cool when English comes as naturally to you, as the dialect you speak in when you visit your grandparents in the village. You’re cool when you’re generally aware and well-read, not just bred on English literature and rock music. You’re cool when your child can have an open conversation with you, regardless of which language you choose to speak in. You’re cool if you make sense when you talk, and it doesn’t have to be in English.

I am writing this article in English, because that is the language I think I make most sense in. To both myself and to others. I’m not saying it’s a mark of how well I’m doing or how liberated I am in life. I’d be delighted to read work in Hindi on the same theme.

In a world rapidly bowing down to hegemonic powers, I believe these are things that matter. Being proud of tradition and holding on to it; not jumping on to the bandwagon and losing individuality. I don’t think it should be all about English Vinglish. It doesn’t have to be.

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11 Responses

  1. leena

    I am proud of being Indian and love hindi and speak hindi a great deal….but english is the only thing that works if you are communicating with friends in different countries…and face it, english does make life less complicated than it already is.

    Reply
    • Lata Jha

      Of course, it does. The intent of the article was not to belittle the language in any way. I’m just saying one language need not be a measure of coolness, a way of looking down upon others. That it makes life very easy is a foregone conclusion.

      Reply
  2. arpit goel

    English is the medium. It is a bridge that connects east from the west and north from the south.The ease with which it can be spoken makes it a universal language. English speaking , mostly, is not done for sounding cool, as that nowadays is frowned upon. People speak to improve themselves. They put effort into it, as you mentioned while speaking to their kids, so that they get to learn the universal medium of instruction.
    Spoken English language is an art, that can be enriched only by having a English speaking attitude and environment in the surroundings. It is something schools cannot teach.

    So dear author. Look at it this way.

    Reply
    • Lata Jha

      I’d love to, Arpit.
      But who says other languages are tough to grasp and adopt? Why can’t we put in the same effort into learning our native languages?
      And while for you it may be free of other frills, it’s not so for everyone.

      Reply
      • arpit goel

        Will it add my conclusive growth? The question that comes to my mind, if i try to grasp languages not widely spoken or used. Will it be fruitful?
        Companies’ demands English, so we are required to learn it, that will lead to our progress and increase career prospect.

        Now it’s my curiosity if i want to add another native language in my portfolio which, i will rarely use as i have to handpick people to use it. It’s simple, either run and adopt yourself to meet the demands or .. well it’s a harsh world.

        Dear author, i wanted to learn Swahili, i chose Spanish…. please don’t judge.

    • Avanika Akinava

      Arpit,
      Nobody is denying that the English language serves as a medium between those who are separated by linguistic barriers. Go ahead and speak in English! But NOT at the cost of your own self-esteem. Often we invest too much into it, perhaps out of a need to be taken seriously in this competitive environment. The idea is to eliminate any such pressure. One should be free to communicate in the language one is most comfortable in, and without being judged for doing so, which is something we as a society often do.
      Look at it this way, ambitious hai shaayad, par multilingualism karke ek practical concept hua karta tha kabhi. Those who wrote/spoke years before us could communicate in more than one language (maybe all/both regional ones, not necessary ki English ho in mein). Today, if that seems impractical, kam se kam ham English master karne ki is madness mein yeh toh ensure kar sakte hain na that we know one other local language?

      Reply
  3. Neharika

    I like the intent and a ot of the points of your article!
    I absolutely love your thoughts here: “But since when have our limitations and challenges become signs of how modern and progressive we are?” (That’s a breakthrough statement for me and I’m putting it on my wall.)
    And this bit cracked me up: “probably even eat and yawn in English in front of guests”
    What do you think of the situation wherein two people are conversing at length and one person talks in english and the latter responds in hindi?

    Reply
    • Lata Jha

      Thanks a ton, Niharika. :)
      It’s disrespectful, no doubt. But I would leave room in this discourse for those who are genuinely uncomfortable with the other language. That can’t really be helped.

      Reply
  4. Haren Harendra

    Very true…Speaking in foreign language (international language, someone will say) in daily life is something unreal. Usually speaking in a native language is quite different & realistic. Knowing more than a language is very good thing but ignoring our own native language is quite different. It’s like showing oneself to others that he is really not…..

    Reply