Language barriers

Miscellaneous Oct 30, 2014

While communication is universal, language can sometimes turn out to be the bridge or the barrier. Here’s an account from one of the correspondents on his experience when he joined the college.

By Christy Rajan (B.E. Computer Science, 2012-2016)

Language barrierPurunjita?” asked the Sir, looking directly at me. I pretended not to notice and prayed silently that the question passes to someone else because I did not understand a word he said. Then he repeated,” Purunjita, Christy?”. THE SIR KNEW MY NAME! This was turning out to be my worst nightmare! Some may argue that the Sir knowing your name is a good thing, but owing to some bad experience i know that is not the case for me. He was still looking at me, waiting for an answer. I had learnt at a very young age that when in doubt, do the Indian nod! An Indian nod is neither a vertical nod, nor a horizontal nod. It’s kind of a sideways swaying of head and has the advantage of passing as both a yes or a no, depending on the situation. Thankfully the teacher was satisfied and he continued the lecture. I leaned towards my right to a Tamil friend, and it was only after my friend told me that the teacher was asking me if I understood what he was teaching that I realized that he had taken my Indian nod to mean a yes! What would I do in this state without this guide of mine who translated everything which was spoken in Tamil around me.

This is just one of the many instances where I’ve felt grossly out of place in Coimbatore. Before I came here, I didn’t think i would have any problems with the language. Being from an Army background, I had already changed my school 8 times and didn’t find language barrier a problem anywhere. That’s the thing in the North, wherever you go you will find most people speaking Hindi. On the other hand, knowing Hindi here may turn into a drawback! Don’t believe me? Check this out. “Muk” means nose in Tamil, however, it means face in Hindi. “Nak” in Tamil, means tongue, while in Hindi it means nose! Not only Tamil, most of the language that people generally speak here is very confusing for us “Northys”.  “Chor” in Malayalam means rice and on the other hand, in Hindi it means thief! You get an idea of the confusion which we face everyday listening to people talk around us!


I have been left embarrassed a lot of times due to the lack of knowledge of Tamil. Once some of my classmates and I were walking back to the hostel. On the way an elderly person looked at me and pointed to my watch asking “Tambi, enda money?”. MONEY! Finally a word I understood! With my chest swollen with confidence I replied,” 1200 rupees!”. My friends suddenly burst into squeals of giggles. I was left looking around, flabbergasted. How was I supposed to know that “mani” means time! There was more. In the initial days my classmates thought that I was showing off my English when I tried to speak to everyone in the only language that I had in common with them! As generic as it may sound, the language barrier was easily the biggest challenge that I was facing in this college initially.

Everytime I saw anyone in the vicinity of the mess, they all muttered something incoherent to me. Once again the Indian nod came to my rescue, sending everyone who asked me with a satisfied feeling in their face. After a while I guess that they were saying “Sup macha”. One of the first things I learnt after coming here was that “macha” was a synonym for “bro”. So every time someone asked me the question again, I used to reply,” I’m good bro! What about you?” Once my roommate was with me when someone asked me the question and upon hearing my reply, he asked me,” Did you know what that person just asked you?” And then he proceeded to ridicule me saying he was asking “Saptacha?” which means “Have you eaten?” I was left speechless yet again. It had started to look like I was the main character in one more version of Gulliver’s travels.

However, with time, I started getting used to the language. I started to be able to comprehend the Tamil language. Learning more about the language wasn’t my only reward, I also started to adopt the culture and morals that were embedded in the roots of this language. The more I tried to learn the language, the more I understood the people and their thinking. Being born and brought up in the North, the majority of my ideals and view of life has been influenced by the culture of that place. Here, I was finding some new and enlightening ways and outlook towards life. I started to bond with my classmates better. Life became good again.

Yesterday, I met a junior who hailed from Delhi and I asked him about the college and whether he had any problems. He said,” Tamil is a big problem. I can’t understand the head or tail of the language”. I looked at him and saw a previous version of myself, fighting the language rather than trying to learn it and reaping the benefits. I told him only one thing- “Kavala Padathey!” (Don’t worry). Unable to resist, I added,”Saptacha?!”

IMG-20140921-WA0017CHRISTY RAJAN (B.E. Computer Science, 2012-2016) is a happy-go-lucky person who loves to read and listen to music. He loves making friends and getting to know other’s perspective on various topics. He is obsessed with several TV series.

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