What I'm Thankful For: Language

I hope to elaborate on this post later, but I’m very grateful to be bilingual and to grow up speaking both English and Hindi. It’s such a blessing that my parents were able to teach me both, and I feel proficient enough to communicate in either. I think this skill really opens up so many opportunities for me as well as allows me to understand my culture so much better than I would have if I grew up without Hindi. Every time that I speak Hindi, even if I make a mistake, I just feel so happy to be able to preserve that part of culture. I know that Hindi, unlike so many languages, will be around for a long time, but speaking it here, I’m part of making America its new home.

Not many people my age speak Hindi in the United States, which makes it difficult for me to speak to speak to others in Hindi. It’s mostly only with my parents, which always leaves me wondering what language I missed out on. I know I don’t speak Hindi as well as my parents, and given traditional cultural norms, I will never know some words that they do.

But I also wonder whether I self-impose these restrictions. I know that I have friends who speak Hindi but I only speak in English to them. I think that I still have a fear that my Hindi is not up-to-par, even though I know it is. Even if it isn’t, I shouldn’t be ashamed to speak with 90% or even 80% fluency because most people don’t even know a second language and because if I don’t speak up, then that 80% will never become 100%.

Another reason, of course, that I fear speaking Hindi sometimes is that my accent is completely American. All my family, even my sister (more-or-less) can speak Hindi with an Indian accent, but for some reason, I can’t. Probably because I’ve grown up in the United States from birth. But my other immigrant friends, whose backgrounds are from other countries, they can speak Spanish or Russian or Chinese with a traditional accent. (I mean, I guess I don’t know how traditional of an accent it is, whether they would be able to pass back in their ancestral land, but still.) I just don’t know how I can change my accent. Maybe I didn’t watch enough Bollywood movies growing up, but I just can’t fake an Indian accent when speaking Hindi. Practice does make perfect though.

I guess that’s another push I can make towards achieving my goal 4 of 20201: learning new skills. The skill to speak Hindi confidently with anyone.

I guess I’m also appreciative of speaking English as well. I could have been born anywhere, but I was thankfully born in the superpower of the world with English becoming an increasingly dominant force in the world. I remember my mom was always scared that I wouldn’t develop great English skills while speaking Hindi at home (despite my parents’ also speaking English natively and probably better than most Americans), and I’m glad that I proved them wrong, even if she’ll never admit it. (To give her credit though, my mom did teach me how to read and made me read a lot when I was younger.)

Tejas Gupta

New York City, USA
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Tejas Gupta is a Princeton University student in the Department of Computer Science. He is currently studying at ETH Zürich.