When someone speaks broken English

For quite some time now, posters and status updates of this quote are doing rounds on Facebook.

“Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”

english

Most of the people who had shared this, along with the commenters were in agreement with this and cheered the support they had received. Of course, this seemed natural for many to feel so on account of the ridicule they may have faced at some point for their broken English.

When I did think about it, it made me think of my own parents at first. My English grasp is better than theirs. Most of the times when we receive some letter or communication from banks, service providers or such, it is kept aside for me to read. While mum can easily read and understand, she insists that I run through it just in case she may have understood or missed something. I can understand where this comes from because she like many people, had received formal education in Hindi. English classes were either discontinued after primary school, or given very little focus and treated as a second language.

I found it hard to understand why some people would ridicule or make of fun of others in college for their English usage, who had had their education in a regional language. While of our own generation, they were given the same treatment when it came to English, as my mother and most likely their parents did as well. It was a secondary language of which they needed a working understanding because that is what they would end up using for work. It really was/is on the back burner when it comes to being taught.

So when it came to people like them, I understood where their feelings came from. What I still do not understand, and made my eye twitch when I first saw this, was that it was shared by many people who have received a formal education in English! People who studied English in “English medium” schools, where it is the primary language taught. Over the course of growing standards/classes special emphasis is given on aspects like grammar, structure at the same level as prose. People who’ve learnt the language for ten years, out of which at least 5 years have been for correct usage of this language.

I am not saying that we should have perfect usage of the language. Everyone is prone to mistakes at times. Not everyone is expected to have a practical understanding of Calculus, but we’re expected to be able to perform basic math. You can question me for not being able to perform Integration because I studied Calculus till the second year of my college. We don’t expect people to know at which concentrations and thermodynamic conditions stable Iron and Carbon alloys are formed. But we do expect people to know what atoms are, and how elements differ from compounds. All of it is part of the basic schooling we have received.

So people who went to English medium schools are expected to NOT speak broken English, just like everyone is expected to know that it rains on account of evaporation, condensation and precipitation of water, and not because of the tears, or blessing sprouting of some divine being’s hands. So when people speak broken English it just doesn’t mean that they know a second language, but can also mean that they didn’t pay attention to what was taught in school.

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Fun and Love

I have been to two high schools for my studies. While I spent lesser time in it, St. Gregorios has been responsible for some of my most memorable experiences, and wonderful learnings. I imagine that this is the speech that I have been invited to speak over there.

 

This is a very interesting feeling, to be on this side of the stage and speaking on the microphone. I have been nudged more than once by a friend when I had dozed off in one such speeches, and called out when a friend saw me eating chocolates or chewing gum. What are friends for, if not to occasionally get you into trouble?

I was asked before being invited back here, to speak on the path of life. Of course non one needed to have gone through the trouble of inviting me. One can never be invited back home, we just walk back in its comforting presence. What better manner to talk about the path of life than to speak through the memories that I cherish of this place, some similar to what you will end up with as well.

One of my most memorable craft classes was the one involving masks and puppets. As the class assignment all of us had to prepare a mask or puppet each. There were no compulsions as to what we had to interpret or portray, or which craft skill we had to use. One would think that in itself the act of mask making would be fun enough, we were told that the kindergarten classes would be grading us. The final class would involve us putting up a team effort to enact stories with our masks and puppets for the KG kids.

The whole idea behind our work changed, and it was as fun for us as the KG kids when the acts were being performed. I don’t remember who was more excited on the final day, the KG kids who were having enjoying the show, or us who were having a wonderful time putting on the act for them. What I am trying to tell here is that if you have to do something, you put in more effort if it is fun, and you enjoy it.

Of all the classes we had, I think the one that I ended up loving the most was Library. I know, library doesn’t have a set curriculum, or something specific to learn like we have in other subjects. But library gave me something that many classes cannot compare to. It gave me the love of reading. While it was never forced that we had to issue a book more than the once per week Library class, a bunch of us ended up issuing books much often. Reading was always encouraged for us. We were taught how to write reviews, and there was pride in one’s review being displayed on the library notice board for others to read.

I remember the discussions we had, students and teachers together. Discussions about the book we had last read, what we thought of it, and the recommendations to the next book. At the height of it, we were issuing books every second day, using the lunch time to change our books from the library. The books would get devoured in the bus on the way back home. Home was no different. Once home work and studies were done with, and dinner eaten; I would be in the bedroom propped with the latest book that I had had issued. Hours could go away on such nights and on holidays to the extent that a person like me would have to be called twice to the lunch table.

I remember when we had been to Bangalore for an inter-school competition, and were on the way back to our accommodation from the event site. We were playing a Harry Potter quiz, and Principal ma’am commented that had we put in half as much effort in our course studies, we would have all been scoring more than 90%.

The idea over here is to find something that you love. The moment you start loving something, you forget the amount of effort you put into things. All that will matter is doing it. Fun and love. These are the two things that I believe you must have, in your path of life.

 

 

Post written as a guest author for the team of Project 365. The prompt was to “You’ve been asked to speak at your high school alma mater — about the path of life. (Whoa.) Draft the speech.”

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Written for day 6 of the A-Z challenge 2014.

How I came to love reading

Five years of my schooling life were spent in Bombay at my uncle’s, so that I could get a better education in Bombay. There were other reasons too, but that is for another blog. I was put up in St. Gregorios High School, and those are one of my most memorable times I have had. One of the two life changing classes that I had over there was Library. Like all other subjects, we had a ‘Library’ class once per week. During this period we were to sit in the library, and return the book we had previously issued so that another one of our choice could be issued to us. Quite simple actually.

I was indifferent to reading books before that, and didn’t bother much except for the text books or the mandatory book we had to issue every week. Our librarian saw this, and I will be ever so thankful that she started recommending books. It started with ‘Great Illustrated Classics’, which are classic books like Oliver Twist, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Frankenstein, Black Beauty, Alice in wonderland and so on. These have a large font print one side and an illustration on the other. They soon had my attention. Once I had exhausted the entire series, I was told to select other books myself. When our names were called, we were encouraged to spend time in front of the books, read their jackets and pick one that we liked.

As we got into higher classes (standard 6 and above, I think) the books we could choose from increased to include Goosebumps, and Shivers. They were such a wonderful read. However the incident that made me passionate about reading took place soon. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were popular in our school, and the library had a huge collection. Generally boys read Hardy Boys, and girls read Nancy Drew. As part of a bet I had to take up Nancy Drew. The librarian saw my sheepish look when I asked for a Nancy Drew, and asked me what was going on. When I explained, she just laughed and told me that for a good book, it doesn’t matter if the characters were male or female. She put me at ease and I started with ‘Nancy Drew and the secret of the slumber party’. I was hooked. I was now issuing books by the day instead of the regular weekly Library period. Every day, I would come back early from the evening games and finish my studies so that I could read Nancy Drew. The next day I would finish lunch quickly so that I could exchange the book for another.

And then Harry Potter happened. My friends were already into it. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is book 3 of the series was already out. I started with that, worked back to book 1 and then read the lot in sequence. I was hooked. We would spend our day discussing the book, challenging each other with trivia questions, or who could remember more spells. Newspapers were hounded for any news of the release dates of the next book. Since the school library would get limited copies of the book, we had a waiting list which went across classes. The list was public, and it was common knowledge as to who was reading the book and the next person in waiting would be after them to read it faster. We were playing a Harry Potter Trivia session in the bus, when we had gone to Bangalore for an interschool event. (We had gone by train, and the bus was for travel within Bangalore.) The principal happened to hear us go at it, and told us that if read our syllabus books with even fifth of this much devotion we would all be getting full marks.

We were encouraged to write reviews for the books we read, and the better of the lot were put up in the bulletin board. It was not an official contest or event, but we felt a pang of pride if our review was put up on the library bulletin board. We had classes only weekdays, but were allowed to come to the school library and read periodicals, Nat Geo, encyclopedias and other books that were not issued to be taken home.

As I grew up, many people told me that Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are two books which are a must read. When I asked them why, nobody could give me a satisfactory answer but just said that these were mind blowing books. Why and how the books did blew their minds, they didn’t know. Their minds were blown because they were told that was the reaction they were supposed to have. When I was doing my internship at General Motors (where I work now), my mentor told me that I remind him of Howard Roark. When I asked who, he told me about the Fountainhead and offered to loan me his copy. I said no. With the limited pocket money I had, I purchased a second hand copy of it for myself.

Reading that book for the first time had been an interesting experience. There were times I was nodding in agreement at what I read, there were lines which I had said myself. Same in essence, and a little different in the choice of word. There were also things that I only hoped I had the courage to do should the time came. Quite naturally Ayn Rand had my interest and I read Atlas Shrugged as well. It was an experience similar to Fountainhead, only more profound. Soon I had a job, so I ended up with all of her books that I could find. If you do want to read her fiction works, then read them in order of Anthem, We the living, Fountainhead, and finally Atlas Shrugged. It makes for an interesting study in not only the objectivist philosophy, but also in Rand as a writer. With each book you can see how her characters evolve, how the plot has more depth, and how the plot arcs reach out and meet each other.

Sometime last year, I was re-reading Atlas Shrugged. I had a strong reaction and felt like hurling the book across the room. I was going through a particularly difficult time, and was reading how the characters were dealing with their own lives in the book. Part of me thought that how could they manage to hold through through much tougher things when they only had themselves. The idea that they’re fictional characters and not real also came to me, at which I was about to throw the book. However I also thought that it was not who I was, and the characters were the kind I always wanted to be. Even before I had read or even knew of the book. Better sense prevailed.

As practice, we never called the librarian in school by name or as a librarian. She was to be conferred with as much respect as we gave our class teachers. Which is why we addressed her as ‘Ma’am’. In retrospect she has taught me as much, if not more, as any other teacher I have ever had. It is she who gave me the love for reading.

Written for the Write Tribe: Festival of words 2, Day 3 prompt: Books