Have you ever felt left out, cut out of the conversation, awkward, and a bit sad? These are all the feeling I go through when suddenly a lively conversation that I am involved in switches from English to Punjabi.
I am married to a Punjabi. He loves his culture, his language, and his traditions. Its a beautiful thing. I am happy that I get to share these things with him and our daughter.
Sadly I do not speak Punjabi very well. I am learning, but it is an entirely new language to me. If it had been Spanish I would be fine, I learned the language in school and even traveled to South America. Punjabi is hard for me, because until I met my husband I didn’t even know the language existed. I have purchased audio programs, language software, and books. I have learned alot over these years, and I can often get the general meaning of a conversation. It helps when the language is spoken slower, but when everyone gets talking excitedly and speaks faster I can not always follow along.
The reality is that the vast majority of the Punjabis that we interact with speak perfect English and Punjabi. At a party or gathering we all tell stories, jokes, or even debate with each other. I love to talk, and I am down right chatty. I am a social person and I love interacting with people. One minute we are all speaking in English and then suddenly it switches to Punjabi. Sometimes this is just for a short time to convey some idea, but often times the Punjabi will continue the rest of the conversation. I am now completely left out. No more funny stories, or input on a topic from me. I sit there smiling, trying desperately to catch whatever meaning I can from the conversation. I smile and nod, but its not the same. I am not apart of the group any longer. My foreign alien feeling become quite pronounced. I see myself as the only one not participating, and not being apart of the larger group. I no longer fit in. I am that Gori in the room!
I now have a small understand what it must be like to be an English learner in the United States. That feeling of isolation, but for them it is even more pronounced.
I want you all to understand that I am not the type of person that believes that my language is superior. I am NOT an English only kind of person. I believe everyone should become multi -lingual. I think its beautiful to speak other languages! I love the Punjabi language, I just wish I could learn it faster.
I sympathize with my husband that he does not get the opportunity to speak his mother tongue very often with other Punjabis. It must be exhausting constantly speaking in your second language. He is so happy when he gets to express himself in the language he was brought up with. You can see the joy on his face being able to fully express himself !
Sadly I dont speak Punjabi well and when a wonderful conversation switches from English to Punjabi, I am left out and a bit sad.
To my readers:
Have you experienced a situation where friends or relatives switched from a common language to one only some knew? How did you feel?
How do you react?