Unlocking my heart with a new language

Learning a new language is always a challenge as well as a reward at any point of time in our life. Just as Shakespeare unlocked his heart with his sonnets, don’t we want to unlock our heart with a new language?
When I joined the University three years back, I attended a one month course in Spoken Kannada arranged by our University as I thought that learning a new language,( the State language of Karnataka, South India) would be an asset for me emotionally, socially and a culturally. I attended all the classes enthusiastically and religiously, the instructor was very kind and supportive, the class mates were cooperative and we had a lot of fun too. But the limited exposure to a new language which is totally different from my other tongues failed me miserably when I tried to interact with the Kannada speaking people outside the classroom. The situational language teaching which taught me the functional use of Kannada in specific situations did not work in the real field.
“auto, hosa roadge borthara?”(auto, will you go to the Hosa road?), “ munde hogi” (go staright), “ illi Nilsi” (Stop here), “uta aita?” ( Had lunch?), “Hegidhira?” (How are you?). “Chennagide” (fine), “thumba chennagude” ( very nice), “tea beku, coffee bera” ( I want tea, not coffee)…… well, I know how to use these expressions, but the day to day interaction with the common people speaking Kannada demands more than these expressions. Though my month long formal Kannada class introduced me to a new language, I am not confident enough to use it for social interaction. I wonder, why? Though I live in a society where Kannada is the dominant language, though I have the motivation and the urge to learn the language, I failed and failed miserably.
The spoken variety of Kannada that the people speak is far away from the bookish Kannada that I learnt in my class. In normal speech, many expressions are shortened, morphophonemic changes take place regularly and the contexts make many known expressions unknown. Hedging is another area that confounds me. But what contributed to my failure are the kind responses of my interlocutors. When the native speakers of Kannada find that I am struggling with my Kannada, they immediately switch over either to Hindi or English. If I were a child, my companions would not have done that. They might have laughed at me for my inappropriate use of the new language, but they would have continued with their own language providing me the necessary linguistic environment.
There is a popular belief that the younger the learner, the quicker the learning process and the better the outcomes. It is believed that older learners of a second language rarely achieve the native-like fluency that younger learners display. Well, I don’t believe in the ‘critical period hypothesis’ and I don’t hope to achieve native like fluency in Kannada. All, that I want is to be a competent user of a new language even after 60. Then, what are the impediments? It seems that you cannot learn a new language without a total immersion in the target language. Don’t try to be a language learner, try to be a language user. Language learning is a performing art and in order to perform well, you need a platform. I could not learn Kannada well as I am yet to get a platform to perform.
Learning the Kannada alphabet was not easy too. The Kannada language has some important features that make it unique in relation to the languages I know (Assamese, Bengali, Hindi and English). Unlike English, in which the letters of printed words map to the speech sounds, Kannada is an alpha-syllabary language based on the ‘akshara ‘system, in which each ‘akshara’ maps to phonology at the level of the syllable. Again, unlike Assamese, Bengali and Hindi which are comprised of less than 40 letter units; Kannada is made up of over 474 CV symbols, along with diacritic marks for consonants.
The path of language learning is not always full of roses, it is a long journey full of linguistic as well as non-linguistic challenges. But, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep”.

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