Being bilingual

April 30, 2010

I attended college in the US. Before I was leaving Pakistan – with absolutely no idea as to what I should expect, or not expect, from the Americans after 9/11 – I was assured about one thing: I was going to experience some of the best years of my life. And according to the common perception, my years abroad were not spent in blurs of smoke, but instead learning more about myself, and most importantly about our bilingual culture, from the much unbiased viewpoint of foreigners.

My roommate was from California (and no, she wasn’t a dumb blonde). When I first met her, I gave her a few ‘shocks.’ The first and the most obvious one was obviously how I could speak English so well. After explaining that Pakistan was not such a godforsaken place, as she (or most Americans) thought it was, where people lived in the dark ages, she understood that we Pakistanis were an educated lot and a good majority of us grew up being bilingual.

The second surprise – I must confess she is still not over yet – was my ability to switch between the two languages – Urdu and English – at the same time. She found this extremely interesting, and made fun of me for sounding “bizarre” every time I spoke half a sentence in my language and completed it in English. For this quality alone, I was a “muse” to most of my American friends. Being born and brought up in Karachi, it never hit me that the way we Pakistanis speak is actually another vernacular.

Those of us who have grown up here probably never realised how intriguing this tradition can be to the foreigners. I never did. However, at the same time it’s sad that we, the youth, cannot communicate for more than five minutes without throwing in a word or two of our colonial legacy in a sentence. Have we become ‘too cool’ to speak our own lingo? I think we have.


Fahad Shamsi | 12 years ago | Reply Urdu is actually a language that was formed out of other languages so no matter how weird it might sound but thats the Future of the language and the purpose. It was created to evolve and thats what makes it a great language and adding english words to it is just natural. But yes I do agree with the fact that we do treat our "NATIONAL Language " with a little less respect then it deserves I guess we have our parents and our superficial society to blame for that how else could their kid get into some prestigious institution and how else could the elite be different from the masses. As far college goes. I am surprised that Ms California was so baffled. Clearly my experience was very different and clearly she was one odd ball. Things have changed now and people in the USA are more aware of our bilingual abilities unless they are from North Dakota or Idaho. People there are still very surprised just by the color of our skins. Maybe Ms California needed to spend more time watching CNN or FOX news. I hope just based on her unawareness we are not stereotyping the masses of the west.
Rizwan Jamil | 12 years ago | Reply I really feel proud of such Pakistanis who travel abroad and help the people living in the west to understand the image of Pakistanis. Ms. Sadia I am so proud of you and I can understand your feelings before traveling what you thought in your mind. I personally believe its the gap the communication gap between Pakistan and West that is creating such untrue concepts about Pakistan and Muslims. People like you and us can play major role in DELETING that gap and concepts. I wish you good luck in future and all to other people who can help Pakistan portraying a better Pakistan.
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