My friend Jil knows 7 languages – Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, English, German and French. And I mean fluently. Not just one or two sentences. She’s from a Assamese-Bengali family. Lives in Karnataka. Learnt German. And is now learning French.

Leaving me quite impressed.

Indians I think tend to be multilingual, by and large. In school, we had to learn three languages. English, as intruction. Assamese, as the mother tongue. And Hindi, as the third language.

Then, if you live in another state, you tend to pick up that language (at least basic spoken). If you are on relatively good terms with your neighbouring state, then you pick some language skills across the border. If you decide to learn a foreign language, you have one more ace up your sleeve.

My own language skills are limited to Assamese, English and Hindi. I can understand a bit of Marathi (but then they hardly speak the language in Mumbai). And I can understand Bengali, but I can’t speak it very well.

Next on my ‘to-do’ list is to learn another language.

How many languages are you fluent in?

41 thoughts on “The art of being multilingual

  1. Hello Anita,

    Was just going through your blogs and well I am reading up your list of bloggers.

    I hope you reached safely.

    I have sent you an email with some stuff that we discussed on…

    I am sure both Satya and Kitkit loved the stuff that you got…

    Have a nice day !!

    Happiness always,


  2. now now…isnt that bad news that all south inidan languages count as one?but also its unfair..if u can say asamese, bengali,marathi etc etc…mallu,tamil,telugu(i admit they are quite similar..but still)shd be considered as diff knows eng,hindi,mallu,tamil,lil bit of- telugu,kannada and chinese, by r ecords am supposed to know german…but reality neednt be that way..geee:)

  3. Anand: I didn’t hear you speak Hindi when you were here!

    Anu: Correction. I actually meant to my ears they all sound the same. Like Assamese, Bengali, Oriya would all sound similar to an untrained ear.

  4. Hi Anita,

    Don’t mean to burst your bubble, but I think you have this tendancy to make sweeping generalizations with no credible base ( I have seen more than one instance of this ).
    I mean how can you meet ONE person in india who knows 7 languages and then pompously state “Indians I think tend to be multilingual, by and large” ???

    Please. I hope you do not meet Aishawarya Rai, because then you’ll say “ALL Indian women are slim, hot and sexy”. And you know more than me, the truth in that statement !!!

  5. Hello Anitha:

    Your blurb aroud multiligualism in India leaves me dumbstruck. There are a lot of people in this world (whole world x=x India, whole world = earth) who know a lot of languages. Ofcourse knowing German and currently learning French is good. But unlike Indians as you see it tending to be multilingual, you might rather want to say, “in some cases tend to try to be multilingual”, if you know what i mean.

    Please write something that will make people read your site, and not glance through it. And ofcourse, with a to-do list, you will need a different colored pen, to write “done” after you complete the job. I hope and pray that you have not forgotten to buy a new pen.


  6. Dear Aravind, your opinion is interesting. Permit me to share mine …

    I didn’t think there was a sweeping generalisation there. Are you reading it too carefully? (Sometimes there is a tendency to be too logical with interpretation when one reads words too carefully! 🙂 )

    From my interpretation – Anita’s impression of her friend Jil *stimulated* the *opinion* that “Indians I think tend to be multinlingual”. Please note the words: *stimulated* and *opinion* – because that’s how it was: it was an opinion – which was stimulated by the impression of Jil – not logically inferred as a generalised fact.

    I’m intrigued as to what aspect of that stimulated opinion you found “pompous”. I, for one, found it thought-provoking. In fact, it provoked my thought to such an extent that I cannot recall any Indian I’ve ever met in my entire life who could not speak more than one language – prompting me to share the opinion stated. In fact, you know what? In another place and another conversation I would probably be so daring as to declare the opinion as a generalised fact – not that I think Anita did this – it’s just that the empirical evidence is too compelling to ignore.

    Regarding Aishawarya Rai: someone once said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think this can equally apply to “hot”, “slim” and “sexy” – just depends what point of reference you decide to use. The image of Aish is a great stimulator of such determination 😉

    Dear Maargabandhu, the two bits of advice re site readership improvement and the different coloured pen was very useful. Do you have more words of wisdom like that?

    Anita: keep up the great work!

  7. AB, looks like somehow some ppl want to pick up a fight with you 🙂

    I guess I fare worst in the whole list. Kannada, English, period. No that does not make 3 but 2 langs 🙂 :p But yearn to learn Espanol smtime. It sounds so coool.

  8. No Anita, I’m not bengali, I’m from UP, but have stayed in bengal for the better part of my life but my family has people from a lot of states and of late, lots of bengalis.

  9. Do Hinglish and Tinglish count as languages?

    Have you ever heard words like teachfy or jumpfy? If not then take a trip to Chennai and hang around some ‘hip’ crowd..

    Also my 2 cents.. Hindi is becoming more and more popular in Chennai as I noticed in my last couple of vists. Over the years it is a marked improvement over the effort to ‘dethrone’ Hindi as the national language.. Are we moving towards a common language that every Indian would speak and understand? I sure hope so.

  10. Wow. I am only fluent in English and Hindi. I cannot read or write in Hindi (unless it’s using the enlgish alphabet). I can speak in Urdu (not that different from Hindi. And can read and write Urdu too, but with some practice. I can read and write Arabic, but I don’t understand it one bit.

    Strange combo…

  11. hey anita, that was a good post. i know 5 languages (marathi, hindi, english, german, spanish and a lil of arabic) but that was when i was a student. these days the only languages i learn are the ones needed to communicate with machines (read computers)

  12. Exactly. My grandpa used to say, there are 3 things which get u quick friends and visibility.

    1> The art of singing

    2> Art of telling astrology

    3> Knowing different lingos.

    SO TRUE.

    BTW I know 6 languages.

    Konkani, Kannada, Marathi, English, Hindi and Sanskrit. Recently know Tamil and Telugu also a bit.

  13. Kingsley: Really interesting post there from Kottke. From my personal experience, I do it myself when I switch between English and Assamese. And mostly without realising that I am doing it. That tends to happen when I am conversing with say my sister, or my husband. But I have no idea how or why it works that way. For example, sometimes my sister could explain something to me in English but I respond in Assamese. Or I might speak Assamese with lots of English words and references sprinkled it. I guess it goes beyond being multi-lingual to ‘code switching’ as Jason puts it.

    Ranjan: Assamese? 🙂

    Jag: And a lot of C, Java and Macromedia Flash! Ah! The answer to be expected I suppose from people who spend lots of time with code and programming! And btw, thanks for the response – I couldn’t have said it better! I guess it’s time to go buy some markers.

    Arun: Yeah! But as long as there’s no blood, I am fine with it. And Spanish is another language that sounds really nice.

    Melodrama: AH! That explains the Singh!

    Anu: No offence taken 🙂

    Shakechilli: What is Tinglish?! Is Hindi really becoming more popular in Chennai? Didn’t seem that way to me when I visited 🙂

    Shyamal: Russian? WOW! I am impressed.

    Khushee: Strange is the word!

    Yardboy: Is it a language?

    Vin: That’s a good one. Obviously, it works for you!

  14. Hi Anita!

    I’m a Bong and I can speak 5 languages. Well almost, bits n pieces stuff 😉 Is Assamese a lot like Bengali?

    I learnt French at SCOFL in Mumbai for 2 years 🙂

  15. Hi Anita: actually I don’t work with C and Java any more (used to a few years back) – so my fluency in those are a bit rusty. And my knowledge of Macromedia Flash is entirely self-taught and has nothing to do with my work unfortunately – because I think I could make a good career out of it! So – all that stuff is “spare time” for me! I spend more of my time attending executive meetings and working on “strategies” etc. – what a boring life eh?

  16. You are awesome !!

    I think our thoughts match EXACTLY and to a “T”, maybe you should visit this blog of mine, and after reading it we could share some thoughts and opinions.

    Please dont forget to write your comments before you leave my blog site, i’d love to know what you think !!

  17. A dismal one and a half. The half being Espanol, the verbs of which I can no longer properly conjugate. Yay, Amurrica! Does it give me any coolness points that I know smatterings of conversational Russian and Welsh?

  18. Andrea: And Australian English is a whole new language 🙂 You get cool points for that too!

    Buzzliteyr: Thanks for the link.

    Megan: 4 is good 🙂

    Deepak: I like the way Aussies speak English. Slow and laidback. You feel like literally completing their sentences!

  19. I only know one language: English. I’m learning Spanish and Hindi. And I want to learn Tamil. I am part Indian. I didn’t know anything about that part of my background till very recently, so now I’m trying to learn all I can. If someone can help me with my Hindi, I’d really, really appreciate it! My email is Thanks!

  20. hey Anita!

    well.. i know english, hindi and marathi !!
    im really keen on learning spanish in mumbai. i know of the SCoFL and Instituto Hispania

    can yu plss tell me which of these places is better in terms of learning and recognition

    thx 🙂

  21. I can teach you French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese in Mumbai. You start speaking the language by the 4th. lesson. I ahve the technology.
    Mobile : 9819454150

  22. i know assamese,english,hindi.but i don’t know other language.i am interested in chiness, spanish and franch.(anita,asomiya hisabe apunak loi mur aji gaurav hoise.chinesst mur nam2 ki dore lekhiba pari koboneki)

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