Madam - are you speaking any of the local lingoI’m often asked which Indian languages I speak.

Which is always a tad embarrassing as I don’t actually speak any.

Not a one.

Sure I can say hello in four or five local languages – but that’s fairly easy as they’re all variations on ‘namaste’. So even for the linguistically challenged, it’s very easy.

And I am linguistically challenged. I blame dyslexia, but it’s just an excuse really.

The real reason I don’t speak a local language is… well, which one would I choose?

I live in the south, so the main options are Telegu, Tamil, Kannada or at a push Hindi.

Hindi would be easiest as a lot of my friends from London who live near me in Bangalore speak it, all be with a slight London accent. Incidentally, as is often the way here, most of them also speak a second Indian language – perhaps Punjabi or Guajarati or whatever their parents spoke at home. And of course, they all speak English as well.

At one point I decide to try a spot of Hindi learning and the lovely people I sat with at Dreamworks made a game of it, and I was learning a word a day for a little while. Not terribly useful words – I remember we were working through creatures at one point: snake, rat, eagle and came to a screaming halt with ‘snail’. Apparently you don’t get a lot of snails in India. Took us ages to locate the word.

But I don’t see them every day now of course, as I left Dreamworks. So my education in invertebrates has come to a screaming halt.

Plus there’s also a lot of resistance to Hindi in the south. Not so much in Bangalore, but certainly further south in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, people are fairly against the creep of Hindi. In fact there are militant anti-Hindi speaking movements – resistant to the dominance of the North. There was a move at one point to make Hindi the official language of all of India… and it was very much resisted in the south. The way that the North Welsh can be rather militant to English speakers.

So, not Hindi then.

Which of the others? Well my maid speaks Kannada, but I don’t have a lot to say to her (other than, ‘please complete the dusting’. Or much desire to chat lightly about the requirements of the day. A single text can achieve that much more usefully and free me up to get on with work. Dusting not being a particularly compelling topic for me.

So perhaps Tamil? Though it’s a strange language – apparently it’s extremely polite. But when you hear people speaking it they all seem to be shouting at each other – it’s a language of volume and extremely strong declarations. If you see two people speaking Tamil on the street, they always seem to be having an argument and about to lamp each other, even if they’re only chatting lightly about the weather.

And frankly I thought I didn’t know any direct Telegu speakers, till one of my life coaching clients revealed she didn’t speak Kannada (despite being from Bangalore), but only Telegu. So generally I feel, that if even the locals speak to each other in English… well perhaps it’s best if I do so to.

But it does feel like a failure to have only mastered ‘hello’ in the local languages. Oh and the not particularly useful word, ‘sap’. it means snake in Hindi. So there you go, my entire Indian lexicon is no more expanded than when I came here and only knew some words of Sanskrit from yoga.

Hangs head in shame.

It’s something I look forward to in my next home – perhaps there will only be one local language and I can learn that.


This post is obviously about the joys of speaking fluently – if you enjoyed it you might like these other very tenuously linked posts:

Signage Sunday : puzzled sign
The air redolent with burning rubbish
Signage Sunday : Humorous jokes

As ever do please leave me a comment below – I’d love to know your thoughts about learning the local languages where you live