I’m half Indian and half British. Recently, I’ve been interested in first language acquisition. I’ve grown up in India which is a country that has at least 22 national languages if not more. Most of us manage to speak at least 2 languages. If you go to the larger cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai or Bangalore you can expect people to speak even a minimum of 3 languages. Mumbai, where I grew up, is the city of dreams in India. We get people coming from all over India to find work there. Because of that we have so many people speaking so many languages. You can almost expect to find that all 22 languages are spoken in Mumbai. I grew up speaking 3 languages at the same time – English, Hindi, and Marathi. I have many friends who even speak a 4-5 languages because of the environment they grew up in. In school, we’d start off learning English, followed by Marathi, and then Hindi and then you could add a fourth language – Sanskrit. Other schools offered different languages too but it was very common in state board schools* to learn 4 languages throughout your education. At home I’d speak English and Marathi all the time and go out to meet my friends I’d switch to Hindi or stick to those two languages. I never felt confused when learning these languages.
The thing about first language is it is the first language you grow up being surrounded by. It doesn’t mean you’re limited to learning just one language like in my case or other countries that have multiple languages. I can very easily make an entire sentence switching from English to Hindi to Marathi in one go. It’s so easy. My dad wanted me and my siblings to be able to speak and understand Marathi so he made it a point to always speak in Marathi with us while we were still living in the UK. Mum on the other hand would always be talking to us in English. When I moved to Mumbai I was 3 years old and I don’t even remember when I started learning Hindi in terms of speaking but I could already speak and understand it before I actually started to learn it. It’s because many of my friends in school would primarily communicate in Hindi rather than Marathi. I never really focused on how many languages I could speak as a kid because it always seemed like a very normal thing to me – to be fluent at a native level in multiple languages. After learning about all these nations where they only speak one language is when I realised how mad it is for India, a country with so many languages, and people are still be able to talk to each other. Learning Hindi and Marathi I’m even able to understand a few other languages (but that’s because they share similarities in words).
In my next post, I’ll talk about how this multiple first language acquisition seems to be changing in India as we enter different ages and eras.