POV: How my Korean lessons ignited a renewed love for my own mother tongue!

Aishwarya Srinivasan
New Update
Mother Tongue Day

In my journey of learning a foreign language, I realized there’s so much to be proud of in my own culture and I embraced my mother tongue in all its glory!

In 2021, I started my journey of learning the Korean language after developing a keen interest in their culture, dramas and of course K-Pop. I enrolled myself in a free introductory course I found on social media with a very simple thought in mind- I no longer want to rely on subtitles. But little did I know that learning a foreign language could impact my life in such major ways! It has changed my entire personality and my perspective on many things related to my own culture.

As Indians, most of us come with a default setting aka an inferiority complex ever since India was ruled by the British. They planted this deep rooted seed in our minds that English is superior to every language. So every generation up until now has spent eons mastering the English language while shunning their respective mother tongues. This complex is so deep rooted after years of colonization and probably requires enough introspection that's possible only when one's aware of its existence in our very being. 

While there’s no denying that knowing fluent English helps you make a mark globally and helps communicate with people living in first world countries like the US & UK, if you’re someone who doesn't know how to speak it well, it really doesn’t mean you’re lesser than anybody else. You might not be able to communicate in English but you might be excellent in Marathi, Gujarati or whatever your mother tongue is. Being learned is what matters, not the language we've mastered. Because through the learning of Korean language, meeting my teachers and watching K-dramas, I noticed a major factor that all of them had in common - all of them took pride in the language they spoke. They mostly watched their own country’s content, made in their own language, while we deem Hollywood as the benchmark compared to a lot of the regional content that's produced in India every year.

Also Read: POV: How I understood the art of translation through K-dramas!

My mother is a Maharashtrian and my dad is a Tamilian and I am one of the very few from my generation who can speak both of my native languages fluently. But even I had a very long phase in my life where I drastically reduced speaking either because god knows why my teenage self thought not speaking in English would be considered ‘uncool’. I also learnt something rather beautiful in the process of learning Korean, it had so many commonalities with my own mother tongue, Tamil. In Korean, they say ‘Appa’ for dad and ‘Eomma’ for mom which is so similar to Tamil. ‘Nal’ means day and ‘Meori’ means hair in both languages. When I digged into this deeper I found out that Tamil and Korean infact have more than 500 similar words. This comes because of Korea's connection to India via the Chola Dynasty when one of their princess' married a Korean king. There's so much history and culture that I did not even know about and I wouldn't even think about reading if I hadn't been interested in learning languages. Which just made me feel like we live in such a small world. We’re all just interconnected to each other. We take inspiration from one another but, in the end, the feeling is all the same. 

Many a times both Korean and Tamil sound very similar. Once when I was watching a K-drama, my dad asked me if I was watching a South Indian film because of how similar it sounded to our native language. Even the tonality in the way both languages are spoken is the same. We like stretching and emphasizing on the end of our sentences, especially while asking a question. It's almost as if both the languages are sung while talking. When I had my very first class I remember falling in love with the way the alphabets looked and it reminded me of the Tamil alphabets my grandmother often wrote and showed me as well when I was a kid. I had this new found respect for my mother tongue while also feeling like this is something that has been with me my whole life, you know? And it's taken me so long to value this. I now make it a point to converse with my grandmother only in Tamil so it doesn't get rusty and I have all the languages I speak at the tip of my tongue. Someone pointed out to me that my voice sounds different in each of the five languages I speak and I feel like that's one of the coolest qualities I have inculcated over the years. 

So why even go about dominating one language over the other? There are so many countries around the world who solely run by speaking their own language and have made a global impact through their art. If you go to any of these countries who don’t speak English, you’ll have to learn at least basic communicational level of their language for a smooth stay there. I think that’s beautiful! We get to learn something beyond what we’ve been told is the norm. Why can’t we too show the world that we’re a melting pot of various languages coming together? Maybe that’s the food for thought I can leave you with today. 

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