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Old 14th August 2020, 13:06   #1
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Default How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

Some years ago, I was visiting my company HQ in Frankfurt. There I met a colleague who was from Andhra. Two desis in the land of goras. We instantly bonded.
As the Germans spoke excellent English, whenever we felt like having a private discussion (not that we were plotting to take over the company or anything), we instinctively switch to Hindi. One German colleague heard us and asked us which language were we speaking in. What followed was probably half an hour of discussion. The Germans were shell shocked when they came to know we desis didn't understand each other's mother tongue (Marathi and Telugu) and we were speaking in a third language!!

We are a huge country made up of numerous types of people. Original state demarcation was based on mother tongues. Despite this, people within the same state might not understand others due to different dialects. I remember when I visited Nagpur for the first time, I had to really focus on what the person in front of me was saying, even though both of us were conversing in Marathi.
Considering all this, I am surprised and frankly speaking wowed, we are able to function as a country. This is an achievement, all of us should be proud of.

I grew up during the 70s, and ended up speaking/understanding the following
  1. Marathi (mother tongue)
  2. English
  3. Hindi (school subject)
  4. German (basic for 2 years in school)
  5. Gujarati (basic communication and understanding. Can read sometimes)

For us 70s kids, TV meant (only) Doordarshan.
I remember the following children's programmes on TV (typical Sunday morning)

किलबिल (Marathi)
खेल खिलौने (Hindi)
સંતાકૂકડી (Gujarati) *How I learnt a bit of this language
Magic Lamp (English)

Contrary to propaganda induced popular belief, we do not have one national language. Our constitution recognizes multiple languages as official languages.

In my opinion, all of us should take efforts to learn at least one Indian language, which is not our mother tongue. The official language of your neighboring state could be one obvious suggestion.

So how many Indian languages do you know, which is not your mother tongue?

On a related note, script can be one major hurdle in learning a new language. While doing my homework before posting this, I stumbled upon an excellent idea by @carZest. देवनागरी as a script* for all languages. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have had much traction. (Language Project)

*For those who might not realize, मराठी and हिंदी are languages. Both are written in the देवनागरी script.

Last edited by RedTerrano : 14th August 2020 at 13:08.
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Old 14th August 2020, 13:18   #2
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I am very bad at languages.

Can read write and speak fluently only English and my mother tongue Tamil.

I learnt Hindi for 10 years so used to read and write fairly well, but that was a long time back. Am sure I wont be as fluent now.

I struggle to speak Hindi casually though, generally talk back in English only.

Can understand only about 50% of Kannada despite living in Bangalore for 12 years. My wife is very fluent though, most of what I have picked up has been in the last 5yrs or so.
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Old 14th August 2020, 13:45   #3
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I am from Kerala. My wife was born and brought up in Punjab. Her father is from UP and mother is from Kerala. Both of us had our post graduation in Tamil Nadu. We both speak and understand Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and English. Neither of us can read or write Tamil though. Communication between us mostly happens in a mix of Hindi and English.
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Old 14th August 2020, 13:54   #4
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Nice thread! Even I firmly believe that we all must learn as many languages as possible and treat language as a medium of communication and expression of thoughts rather than attach misguided emotions about it. I do not agree when someone says their language is the most superior and everyone should learn it and I also hate it when someone entirely rejects another language just because it is not spoken in their state.

Coming to the original intention of this thread, if we can denote ability to speak as 'S', write as 'W' and read as 'R', ability to think as 'T' (We all have a mind voice with which we think and it is usually done in a single dominant language), Ability to understand as 'U' (I believe it is possible to understand something without having ability to Speak or read - some members may disagree), I know the following:
1. Tamil - SWUR
As this is my mother tongue, it is the first language I learnt to speak and the last one which I learnt to read and write. It is also the language I use the least and only with my parents and close relatives.

2. English - SWURT
Thanks to studying in an English medium school and globalization, this is the langauge in which I mostly 'think'! I am an engineer and every bit of science and math that I have studied in my life have been in English which makes it impossible for me to use any other language while I am solving work related problems in my mind. When not working, most of my hobbies like reading, watching movies etc are done in English which makes it very dominant on my mind to an extent where I have consciously realized that I use English to 'think even when I am talking in a entirely different language! I would like to know other bhpians experience about 'thinking language.

3. Kannada - SWURT
I have spent almost my entire life in Karnataka and it is natural that I learnt this language right from school days. I also think in Kannada sometimes (maybe 10% of the time and English 90% of the time) as most of my friends are kannadigas so I end up speaking with them a lot.

4. Hindi - SWUR
I learnt this language thanks to the 3 language formula of Karnataka government in education unlike other states. It was very difficult initially as I had no one at home to practice this and only the 1 hour per day interaction with my hindi teacher at school was all I got. I hated this subject while in school but now I look back and feel happy that I learnt it at a young age.

5. Telugu - SU
I learnt this because my girlfriend (now wife) is a Telugite

6. Malayalam - U
I have had many colleagues who are from Kerala and as the language has many words similar to Tamil, I have been able to learn to understand this language by observing my colleagues communicate and watching Malayalam movies. But I can neither speak nor read it. Maybe someday I might learn if my job is transferred to Kerala.

I know that many people who speak my mother tongue simply hate learning other languages and I do not like that. I also hate when some impractical language is imposed by the government. I firmly believe that everyone must learn their mother tongue fluently, English as it is the global language, and as many other languages as possible before they reach 15 years old till when their ability learn languages is maximum! It can be the language of your neighbouring state, language of the country where you want to emigrate or simply because you love the sound of it!

Last edited by nagr22 : 14th August 2020 at 13:55.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:10   #5
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I love India for this diversity in languages. I can read, write and speak Tamil, English, Hindi and speak Telugu to 70-80% extent. A bit of longer stay in AP or TS can better my telugu. I simply love to hear and talk good Hindi from states of MP/UP/UK/Bihar.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:11   #6
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

  1. Marathi - Native language/mother tongue. Born in Mumbai and and brought up in Pune.

  2. Hindi - Learnt in school and from television growing up. Travelling across the length and breadth of the nation improved it a lot. Growing up in Pune in the early 90s, Hindi wasn't spoken much.

  3. English - Medium of education throughout. Now the default language for work.

  4. Kannada - Very basic grasp. Learnt some of it during multiple short visits to Bangalore a decade ago. Learnt to read and write it though. I felt it was much easier as compared to speech.

  5. Telugu - Learning in process. Had monthly 3-4 day visits to Hyderabad for work in 2018 and 2019. Landed a job in Hyderabad recently but working from home in Pune currently due to the pandemic. Currently I can manage basic day to day requirements like at the grocery/cab/restaurant. 1 year of continuous stay and I shall be able to speak it fluently.

  6. Dutch - Had learnt the basics during my stay in the Netherlands a few years ago. Completely out of touch now.

New languages can be learnt only in 2 situations. Either when you are keen to learn one and take proactive efforts or it is the need of the hour. For instance in Pune one can live easily without knowing Marathi. Similar for Kannada in Bangalore or Telugu in Hyderabad. On the contrary during my stay in Chennai, basic knowledge of Tamil did seem necessary. I personally am quite fond of learning new languages and make it a point to learn the regional language of the place where I stay for longer duration. Just helps connecting to the place/culture/people easier. Locals too like it and the feeling of being an outsider subsides.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:19   #7
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

If you are from Kerala, there are high probabilities that you know following languages:
Malayalam - Mother tongue
Hindi - Learned in school
English - Learned in school
Tamil - Movies, friends, border influence, Tamil Brahmins, cultural influence too. Job location

Other popular languages :
Kongini - community
Kannada - Work location
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:20   #8
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

Kannada - mother tongue and first language in school
English - medium of school and 2nd language.
Hindi - again because its 3rd language in school and watching TV.

I have friends/colleagues born and brought up in Bengaluru. Irrespective of their mother tongue most of them speak and understand Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. It might not be true anymore though.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:26   #9
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

I R/W/S 4 languages; English, Hindi, Konkani & Marathi. I could speak basic French in my teens now totally forgotten. Konkani is my mother-tongue, interchanged frequently with Marathi which is like a 2nd mother-tongue. Languages listed in order of fluency and articulation (yeah, I know, I know,)

Last edited by R2D2 : 14th August 2020 at 14:28.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:30   #10
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

Excellent thread idea. I can read, write and speak Malayalam (mother tongue), English and Hindi. Although I've to admit that I'm more comfortable with writing in Hindi than speaking it, courtesy of the way I was taught the same. I can understand and speak Tamil to a large extent. I only have limited knowledge in Kannada and Telugu and can piece together very basic sentences. I did attempt to learn a bit of Spanish and Chinese last year but gave up soon.

Originally Posted by RedTerrano View Post
Despite this, people within the same state might not understand others due to different dialects.
Oh boy, where do I begin! Once I asked a tea shop guy at Kasargod, the northern most district of Kerala, directions to Bekal fort. He stared at me for a while and then started giving me the directions. In HINDI! I stood there like an idiot all the while wondering whether my malayalam was so bad that he thought I was someone from the North who was more comfortable with Hindi. And I'm sure he was a malayali as I could hear him talking to another guy standing right there.

Another day while throwing coconuts near the holy flame at Sabarimala temple, a gentleman with his young son approached and asked me whether his son could jump in to the flame. It probably took ten seconds of awkward stare and silence before I remembered a friend of mine once telling me that the word we used to say 'throw' was used by them to convey 'jump'. And all the while that guy was just asking me whether his son could also throw the coconuts. Her tip sure saved me from calling the cops/child service on an innocent random stranger.

Contrary to propaganda induced popular belief, we do not have one national language. Our constitution recognizes multiple languages as official languages.
Thank you. You can argue with your friends. You can argue with random strangers on the internet. But when your 100% malayali mother who have never lived outside of Kerala argues with you as apparently she was taught 'Hindi hamara rashtra basha hei' in primary school, you tend to lose all hope and just smile and keep mum whenever the topic pop up.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:41   #11
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

  1. Kannada : Read,write and converse
  2. English : Read,write and converse
  3. Hindi : Read,write and converse
  4. Gujarati : Read,write and converse (mother tongue)
  5. Marathi : Read,write and converse
  6. Tamil : Understand (50%) but don't converse
  7. Tulu : Understand (50%) and have conversed regularly during my Pre University days and also little when dealing with carpenters while at my home town.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:45   #12
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Born and brought up for the first 12-13 years in the cosmopolitan environs of Mumbai from the late 70s thru late 80s. I was exposed to neighbours who were 1) Gujarati+Kannada 2) Tamil 3) Parsi 4) Bengali and there were a Jewish couple too for some time. All this courtesy State Bank of India.
So it was a hard time for me to speak Marathi other than at home or with relatives. In fact I say jokingly that I am 7th pass in Marathi, as I took up French afterwards. So in the order of preference of conversations it is 1) English 2) Marathi 3) Hindi.
In the order of reading/writing proficiency, it is English, French and German. I have had no occasion to write in Devanagari after school.

Other than these, I am able to follow Gujarati,Konkani somewhat decently, Bengali a bit, and I was able to follow Telugu to some extent because of my flatmates in the USA. But since then, have lost touch. Amongst the foreign languages, its French, and (more recently) a smattering of German (A1 level).

Last edited by fhdowntheline : 14th August 2020 at 14:48.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:51   #13
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Default re: How many Indian languages do you speak / understand?

1. Malayalam (R,W,U,S)- Mother Tongue
2. English (R,W,U,S)- Obvious

3. Hindi (R,W,U) - This is a language I struggled with in school, mainly because shifting between schools, hence, inconsequent learning. I can understand fairly but when it comes to speaking, I don't get the flow but still I am able to manage when necessary though.

4. Arabic (R,W) - Half of my school life was in UAE where Arabic is a must.
5. Sanskrit (R,W,U) - Was my second language in high school.

6. Tamil (U,S) - Been watching Tamil movies since childhood.

Started watching Telugu movies recently and I think I would be able to understand it if I follow it more frequently, long way to go though.
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Old 14th August 2020, 14:57   #14
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English and Hindi- Read, Write, Understand & Speak
Punjabi - Understand & Speak.
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Old 14th August 2020, 15:07   #15
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Read, Write, Understand and Speak - English, Hindi

Understand & Speak - Telugu

Only understand - Tamil

Speak - Konkani (Mother tongue, has no script)
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