I recently read that when we are young it is much easier to pick up a language than when you are, say thirty years old. The reason being, that the adult brain has already formed the required neural pathways responsible for our linguistic skills. To put it in simpler terms, this means that the brain has been wired in a certain way to allow us to speak the languages that we know. When we are young this is easier since the brain is making lots of connections amongst its billions of neurons and as we grow older this connection forming in the brain slows down. In effect, this makes learning a new language a daunting task. A fact that I can vouch for.
My first tryst with a foreign language was when I decided to embark on a research career in Germany. Germany for long has been known for its scientific excellence, precision and efficiency. I discovered the same qualities while studying the German language. While I found German difficult to master, I was amazed at the ease at which German toddlers rattled off unending German words with ease. Another aspect which one cannot miss while you are there is the love which they have for their language and culture. So if I spoke a few sentences of atrocious German I was greeted with smiles of encouragement. The copious praise did boost my language ego, however I soon discovered the flip side of flaunting foreign language skills. Most of my friends would get so enthused about me attempting to speak their mother tongue that they would forget completely that the learner is well, still learning! It must have been quite amusing for my German friends when I would greet long sentences spoken in perfect German with a dumb face and an even dumber smile!
Returning back from Germany to India was a relief in the linguistic sense or so I naively thought since I was going to be in my native country. But I soon realized that my language woes were to continue. Actually it was quite silly of me to even think that my troubles would end in a country that speaks seventeen official languages. The states in India are divided on linguistic lines and each state has their own language. The script is different and usually there are several dialects.
Having recently moved to the temple city of Bhubaneswar – the capital of serene and peaceful Odisha, I am onto learning yet another language. The only problem it seems is that my brain cells are not cooperating. Whenever I utter a sentence in the local Odia, my tongue responds in myriad tones. The verbal gibberish sounds funny to me but unfortunately for my Odia brothers and sisters I fail to make any comprehensible sounds.
As would be expected, Odia folks exhort me to learn the local language. Well meaning friends give me numerous examples of non Odias who speak fluent Odia. The first and foremost question posed to me is how much Odia have I learnt? I try to exhibit my linguistic skills by saying a few sentences in Odia and change the topic as soon as possible. The guests are offcourse delighted while I am left scratching my head trying to soothe my rusted brain 😉
Learning a new language gives you many advantages and is said to sharpen your memory and cognitive function. But in my case I am left with an indigestible mix of strange words which fail to join into full sentences, incoherent pronounciation which only I can understand and a brain which is tangled in words 😛