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The Language Barrier

For those of you who've been checking back to this blog on a regular basis to see if there's any new content (and if you haven't, why haven't you?), I think I owe an explanation as to why you haven't seen any. You see, two weeks ago, I hurt my right wrist in a car accident. Don't worry, I'm OK and also probably alive (I see a white light!), back at the old stand and churning out blog posts at the fantastically lazy rate of once a week. Luckily for us, no one got hurt, and we're all safely at home.

Our car after the accident. Once upon a younger year, it looked a lot more like an SUV.

I didn't write this article to tell you about my near escape, though. I wrote this article to talk about local languages and just why it's important to speak them. In the case of our car crash, for instance. A couple of minutes after the car had landed (on its roof, no less!), a bunch of onlookers had gathered. One of them took a large stone and smashed our window so that we could safely crawl out. All of the people around the car then began to ask, in English, if we were OK. When we responded in Kannada, you could see just in the way that their expressions changed that their whole idea of us had changed. We were no longer random people whom courtesy dictated should be helped. We were their own kind. After that, an ambulance was called and we were taken to the police station, where the policemen did everything they could to make sure we were comfortable. They'd have done it if we hadn't spoken Kannada as well, but I think the fact that we did made them happier to have helped us.

This thing about languages isn't really that obvious in Karnataka, though naturally, people will smile at you and be more helpful if you speak to them in Kannada. In North India, however, it's quite a different story. In Delhi, for instance, some people only responded to me after I spoke to them in Hindi. Until you speak in Hindi, I guess you're just another Madrasi. 

This is one of the main reasons I like to learn different languages. Speaking to a person in their own language allows you to feel like you belong with that person. Talking to a person in their own language doesn't just spare them having to try and communicate in a language that is difficult for them to understand, it actually makes them understand you better. 

Also, please stop calling us Madrasis.

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