Language is an essential aspect of my life. It allows me to communicate and interact to others around me. It allows me to express my feelings, question and obtain knowledge, and evaluate our experiences everyday. Being bilingual is an asset in my life and will continue to be because it is dear to my heart. Ever since I was young, Bangla has been my first language and I was raised to understand Hindi and Urdu. I speak Bangla at home, to my relatives, and to the people in Philadelphia, who are apart of the Bengali community.
One of the things that affects one’s language and the way one speaks is the environment that they are in. The more time you spend in that area the more fluent you become in that language. In America, I have an American accent and I know how to speak English fluently and Bangla too, however, when speaking Bangla it is obvious to other Bengalis that I have an accent. In my case, it seems like I do not know Bangla fluently as much as I know English, but in reality it is my native language.
When my family and I would travel to Bangladesh, my cousins would think we didn’t know how to speak it well because our American accent was so thoroughly weaved into our words. Our Bangla sounded informal and weird compared to people who spoke Bangla in Bangladesh.
“Ahhh! Kemon aso thumra? Ki kobor?” (How are you guys?)
I squealed and threw my arms around my two cousins and squeezed the daylights out of them. It had been way too long. I felt their arms wrap around me and hug me back tightly. They laughed at me and pulled away.
“Oh Allah. Thur Bangla tho aro karap hoigese. Thuke abar thin mash er jonno shikabo,” one of my cousins, Lubna said. (Oh god, you're Bangla has gotten worse. We have to teach you again for the next three months.)
In How to Tame A Wild Tongue, Gloria Anzaldua is also bilingual and faces similar issues as I do. She quotes Irena Klepfisz, an author and activist, who states, “Our tongues have become dry, the wilderness has dried out our tongues and we have forgotten speech.” (Anzaldua, 54) When she is referring to this, I experience the same feeling when I travel to Bangladesh. It feels as if I completely forget my language and whenever I speak I fumble with my words and whatever leaves my tongue feels foreign. The environment of America seizes my language away from me and makes my mouth dry of the little I knew.
The minute I stepped off the plane my first trip to Bangladesh, I realized I was speaking Bangla wrong; people around me were speaking it so beautifully and when I spoke it sounded dull. It was the first time the people around me corrected me and it took a toll on me. I felt the same way as Sherman Alexie did when he taught himself how to write in his story, Superman & Me, and everything became so clear. He writes, “I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity.” (Alexie, 12) It was astonishing because when I was corrected it felt like everything clicked and the puzzle pieces of my mind were perfectly put into place. Back in America, my parents would not correct me, and I realized I was speaking multiple things wrong the majority of the time. Gradually, as time passed our American accents faded and we blended along with the people around us and it felt like we had been living there all of our lives. The longer you stay around the people who speak the same language as you, the better you get at it. When we went back to America, our Bangla would slowly go back to how it was before but our English was always the same. Unfortunately, it was like a cycle and so when we would go back to Bangladesh or Bangla would be poor once again.
I gained knowledge on the fact that there were different kinds of accents in Bangla too depending on which region of Bangladesh you lived in. In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, people spoke the very formal and professional kind of Bangla. Chittagong, the second largest city in Bangladesh and where my family was from, people spoke formal and the slang language which is Chitenge. In Sylhet, which is in the north east region of Bangladesh, people also speak in a different accents which is very thick compared to Chitenge and formal Bangla. Since, I have grown up in a family that speaks it around me so often, I understand it fully and I know bits and phrases but I do not know how to speak it properly.
Learning a new language is like having a different life in you. On one side of your life you are speaking the language the whole country you are living in knows. On the other side, you are at home, in an environment that is a completely different atmosphere with a different language. However, speaking Bangla and understanding different forms of Bangla along with Hindi and Urdu is my strength. It is an advantage for my communication abilities now and in the future; whether I am translating for someone, or for academic or job purposes. Even though I do not know every aspect of Bangla, I don’t feel discouraged and when someone corrects me because I am acquiring more knowledge. It may affect others negatively to change but to me I am able to discover new things from my mistakes and it is making me stronger to a place I could never imagine. As I am adapting to the environments, I feel like the people around me are literally putting their hands into my brain and placing information and in the long run it is benefiting me to a greater extent.
Language takes up a whole part of you and it’s something to keep with you and pass down from generation to generation. It’s something native that you must keep close since it is so special. Whatever environment you are in and however you are affected by it you still have a way to communicate and speak a language that you’re fluent in and that is something to take pride in. If we continue to build a positive environment around the children of our future, they will learn the complexities of language and communication and learn the importance of language as much as I do.
How to Tame A Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua
Anzaldua, Gloria. "Borderlands La Frontera." How to Tame a Wild Tongue. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999. 53-64. Print.
Superman & Me by Sherman Alexie
Alexie, Sherman. "Superman & Me." The Most Wonderful Books: Writers on Discovering the Pleasures of Reading. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1997. N. pag. Print.