Multilingualism in India

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At the very beginning of writing this piece, I’d like to know whether you are a multilingual person. I am not sure of your answer whatever it may be. However, I assert that the world is indeed yours if your answer is in the positive. The next instant and related question is how many languages can you speak comfortably? Say 1, 2, 3, 4 or more?

By the way, please make it clear whether you are multilingual or bilingual or monolingual in a word? Whatever the answer you may have, to the query I posed, I will revert to you. In between, let’s have a quick look at the advantages of being a multilingual person. But first of all, what is multilingualism?

The ability of effectively communicating in more than three languages is multilingualism which is in contrast to monolingualism wherein one can use only one language. So, to say, if you can speak multiple languages, you are a multilingual person or a polyglot.

Being multilingual has many advantages if you begin to count. Scientific research says a multilingual person is brainier and brawnier. Multilingualism enables a person to know diverse cultures, views, opinions at the very first hand. You can quickly adjust yourself anywhere in the world provided that you have certain skills coupled with multilingualism.

However, translation may be an option in certain cases. But then experiencing something from the original source is no match to anything translated. Watching something with naked eyes, reading something in original and understanding someone or something in the original language leaves an indelible imprint and impression on our psyche.

No doubt, you can translate a word of a language into another specific one. But can you translate the emotions of others unless otherwise, you have hands-on experience? You are at the liberty to argue differently. But what I hold that it is unarguably difficult to translate emotions others have put in black and white.

It is more enjoyable when you know the language in which someone expresses themselves. If you wish to feel and understand what world’s greatest dramatist William Shakespeare put in writing centuries ago, you need to master English to the extent of getting him into you. There will be an utter killing of joys and happiness of reading if you tend to read a translated version of Shakespeare’s works.

Further, there are chances that a translator may misinterpret what William Shakespeare had said through his literary works. So, it is more advisable for you to know about him and his works at first hand. Mastering English is the best option for you to know the world to the fullest as 80% of literature is in this language.

Being a resident of India, you naturally have to be multilingual in the light of the fact that the Government of India passed the Official Language Act in 1963 through which every educated citizen is expected to know at least three languages – one mother tongue that you get from your mom, dad and your family. Second any other Indian language such as Hindi or any other languages. Third, English which is compulsory when it comes to passing the 10th Board exams. Remarkably, if you are going to write competitive examinations for any decent jobs, qualifying an English test is compulsory as a ladder to the next step of success.

There is a strong logic behind this parody in the country. India, which is a multilingual society, has as many as 1652 languages and dialects in practice. This is impossible for one to know all these languages. This is the reason that the government years ago aptly and wisely formulated the Three Language Formula for smooth transaction and communication in the length and breadth of the country. This is also needed for national integration, connectivity, development, prosperity and overall bonding.

English plays a pivotal role in bridging communication gaps. Most of the countries in the world are monolingual society whereas India is a multilingual social order. Indians are rightly said to be brainier and brawnier for the reason that they are multilingual. They are going places for their skills. But are you really?

A monolingual person may have a set of 25,000 words as an average for his communication. But then a multilingual person stocks multiple thousands of words say 25,000x3 = 75,000 words for a trilingual person. By that token, it is very clear that the ROM/RAM of the brain of a multilingual person is much bigger. Hence be proud of yourself! Take pride in saying that you are a native of India and you are multilingual.


Dr. Birbal JhaDr Birbal Jha is a noted author and Managing Director of Lingua Multiservices Pvt Ltd. He is credited as creating a revolution in English training in India with slogan ‘English for all’.

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