Bilingualism ain’t so Bad!

I’m a lazy kid – not going to lie. I use abbreviations where possible, “to kill two birds with one stone” is my life mantra and if it requires more effort than making a cup of tea I will use all my energy in contemplating whether to do it or not. Needless to say I don’t love doing extra work. So when mini-Nimmy had to sit at the dining table with extra books around her, Mumma in the background, learning something all her friends didn’t have to, she wasn’t thrilled. Oh the joy of learning another language. Different sounds, different letters, different words – why did I need this added level of complexity in my already hectic grade 4-er life? Writing out 10 sentences in English for homework was pain enough; to dictate Kannada proverbs in my playtime was a violation of my kiddy rights!

Kannada – pronounced Cun/na/da not Canada – that’s the language I speak, my mother tongue. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. It’s a South Indian language that is spoken by people who come from the state of Karnataka. None of my friends ever know of it and usually my first conversation with them about it goes like this:

Friend: Oh you know another language. What’s it called?

Me: Kannada

Friend: Canada?! What they have their own language!?

Me: No I speak Cun-na-da

Friend: Nup never heard of it

Great all that hard work, hours of monkey bar time given up to learn a language no one has even heard of. Thanks mum. Growing ever disgruntled I would strut up to my mother and demand to know why she insisted on teaching me a language that no one knew about, and her answer was always, “So I can get mad at you in the grocery store and no one will know I’m yelling at you.” – Charming, glad to know all this effort is going to good use. Once again, thanks mum.

 

What Mini-Nimmy didn’t know was that there were going to be advantages later in life from knowing an unknown language. Gossiping is a girl’s best friend (ammirite?) and every girl knows that the best person to gossip with is her Mumma (I am so right!). But what is the biggest problem with gossiping? People listening and then telling Mary that you think her new short hair looks like a poodle. So how could we ever solve such a problem – bilingualism! Huzzah! You have no idea how often Mumma will point out a far too short skirt, or a crazy haired person or a crazy friend all while using the intonation of a thorough literary discussion. The woman is seriously brilliant – give her an Oscar. However, the benefits of bilingualism (and multilingualism) go far beyond idle gossip. Studies have shown knowing multiple languages delays the onset of Alzheimer’s, allows better recovery after brain damage, improves one’s cognitive capacity and is a darn good party trick. But what makes being bilingual so good for me?

My immediate family is in Australia but everyone else is in India – the reason why I love my bilingualism is that it has allowed me to become close to my family who live half a world away. Being able to speak the language they use every day makes me feel like I don’t live across the Indian Ocean in a totally different continent. It gives me a sense of identity, it keeps me firmly tethered to my roots and it makes India feel like home. When I go there, I truly feel local. I can go to the shops and buy sweets from roadside stalls, I can tell the auto driver where to go and I can scold the tailor when he hasn’t finished making my clothes on time. It’s great! For this I cannot thank my Mumma and Papa enough – it is one of the best things they have done for me. In fact, I now wish they had taught me another language! Preferably Hindi – people know of that one, plus it would make understanding Bollywood movies so much easier.

 

So… believe it or not, older-Nimmy is now getting her Mumma to teach her Hindi. (What would mini-Nimmy have to say about this!?). It’s not easy, and I’m not very good at it. There is a lot of Mumma repeating the same phrase at me, with me staring at her with the hope that I’ll miraculously understand what she’s saying. However, what is helpful is the fact that my little 4 year old cousin has only a slightly more advanced Hindi-ability than me so I can use his pre-loved Hindi colouring-in books to learn from. They will go well beside my medicine books – looking like David and Goliath. It is an ever-so-painfully slow process and I’m nowhere near the gossip level. So in the meantime if you hear two females talking in Kannada behind you at the grocery store, chances are we are talking about you.

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