Corey writes:

So this week the old lady and I started our official Oriya tutelage, with the help of our neighbor and friend, Binu. Learning a new language is one of the reasons we came on this adventure, but it's been a difficult project for us from the start.

When we found out we were going to India, we though "Great, let's start learning Hindi now!". However, we soon learned about how each state in India has it's own language, and these state-level languages are more commonly spoken than Hindi in their respective states. Living in the U.S., we take for granted that nearly everyone (even yinzers) speak the national language. But here in India, most people learn at least three languages.

You learn your "mother" tongue first. For many people, this is the same as the state language. But if your family moved from one part of India to another (even across the state line), your mother tongue is the language spoken in your ancestral home, the place you "belong to". Even if you were born in another place, even if your parents were born in another place, if your ancestors came from Delhi, you belong to Delhi. Our friend Binu belongs to Andhra Pradesh, so her mother tongue is Telugu.

Next comes your state's language. So in addition to speaking Telugu, Binu also speaks Oriya, the language of Orissa. With any luck, so will we soon.

If you are lucky enough to go to school through primary and secondary, you will then learn the national language, Hindi. This is Binu's third language. If you aren't that lucky, you will still pick up some Hindi here and there. We showed up in Delhi for our In-Country Orientation ready to learn Oriya, but then we found out that we would learn Hindi instead. Since the VSO vols are sent all over India, it makes sense to get us all started with the national language.

Finally, many of the post-secondary schools and universities are "English medium" schools which means that all instruction is done in English. So throw in English on top of the stack. One interesting result of this is that English speakers (like us ourselves) are treated with some unearned reverence. It's the language of the educated class. It's a mythical key to a good job. There are fliers posted all around Koraput for "Learn spoken English in 30 days!" classes. It's seen as a great compliment if we tell someone they speak English well. People we meet around town are always saying "I want to speak with you so I can learn better English". In the meantime, we are just trying to learn to speak two languages fluently.

I'll pause here for an aside that makes me smile: Most of our Indian friends in Koraput have said they are able to understand us better than people from England. They're the originators of the language! I chalk it up to our cultural imperialism. Yay Hollywood movies!

So back to us learning Oriya: we've had two lessons so far and we've learned a lot. More importantly, they're fun! For example, last night, Gina accidentally stumbled onto the Oriya word for "fart". (It's remarkably close to the word for "teach". Go figure.) The three of us laughed for about 20 minutes. I've never had so much fun conjugating verbs: "I am farting", "I have farted", "I fart". Sustaining motivation is probably one of the biggest hurdles when learning a new language. As long as our lessons continue like this, it should be a breeze.

For now, we are only learning Oriya verbally, since learning the Oriya script right away would probably frustrate us into quitting. Below is what the Oriya script looks like. Let me mention that Hindi, Oriya, Telugu, and of course English each use different scripts, so Binu's fluency of 4 languages is even more impressive!

It's also interesting that, in Oriya, there is no differentiation between "I like ____" and "I love ____".

One last aside: some of the Indian gender inequalities are built right in to the language. For example, last night we were learning about "you" and "he/she". So in Oriya, when Gina says "He (Corey) farted", she has to conjugate the the verb "fart" in a way that shows respect, since I am her husband. But when I say "She (Gina) farted", I don't have to show respect.