Language is power. Everyone knows that. Or ought to, at any rate. We often see some professionals more successful than others, not only because of their competence in their field of work, but also their command of language, whether it is written or spoken, their mother tongue or some other tongue. A good command of language helps one carve a niche for oneself in one’s personal and professional circles. And yet not many take this power of language seriously. And some do pay the price of neglecting it.

That one would love one’s mother tongue seems obvious. But isn’t it a fact that most people speak their mother tongue badly? Their writing skill in their mother tongue too leaves a lot to be desired. If one doesn’t speak or write one’s mother tongue properly, how can we expect one to perform well in another language, foreign or indigenous?

People often ask me which language or languages a young person must know to flourish in Gujarat. My answer to the question is very simple, at least in theory, and will hopefully motivate some Gujarati folks (and by extrapolation, any Indian) to learn a new language/ new languages.

First, you must know your mother tongue well. So if you have spent the first few years after your birth in Gujarat, you ought to have a fairly good command of Gujarati. If Gujarati is not your mother tongue but if you have lived in Gujarat for a few years or if you are planning to settle in Gujarat, it will be a wise decision to learn Gujarati. It will certainly prove helpful in your personal and professional life to be able to communicate in the local language.

Second, it is expected of every citizen that they know the “national” language—the language for communication with people across the country. For us, that language is Hindi. Though Hindi is not officially a national language, it will serve your purpose in ordinary situations in most parts of India.

Third, it is fruitful to know at least the rudiments of the “mother” of many Indian languages—Sanskrit. Most other Indian languages have borrowed so heavily from Sanskrit that knowing it becomes a distinct advantage. The more you know and can do in Sanskrit, the better you can perform in most major Indian languages. Sanskrit is one of the most overtly systematic languages. It is believed that if one learns Sanskrit, it becomes easy for one to learn any other language.

Fourth, we cannot ignore the language most people all over the world use and/or value. English is a true lingua franca of the world if we look at the spread and volume of its use in the world. Whether you love it or hate it, the fact is that, in the world today, the more English you command, the better it is for your personal and professional life.

Fifth, you will find it advisable to learn an Indian language other than your mother tongue, the national language and English. India is a multicultural, multilingual country. Learning (or even attempting to learn) an unfamiliar Indian language will lend a fresh perspective to your view of India.

Sixth, learning a foreign language is believed to help one in many ways. It may give you pleasure to know a foreign language. It may increase your confidence in yourself. You will come in contact with a new culture via such a language. It will undoubtedly broaden your world view. You may come to see and understand that human beings are essentially the same even if they live in different countries or even on different continents. You may take a step closer to becoming a citizen of the world.

I can certainly give a piece of advice for language learners from personal experience. Don’t be happy with the bread-and-butter command of any language. Try to learn and command as much of it as possible; learn and practise as many aspects of every language you know as possible. Remember, one can never do enough while learning a language. And once you have acquired a language, you have acquired the power to communicate in it: that is certainly power!

One may ask me now: how can I learn any language? Well, let me quote as an answer to this question one of my favourite lines from the Bible: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7, King James Version).

Happy Learning, Happy Living!

–Dharmendra Sheth