Wrong, of course. Most of the kids had heard their parents speak Hindi at home so they knew their vocabulary and could perfectly mimic the teacher’s proper accent. But even the American woman and her teenage daughter, who had heard the language far less than I had, fared better in this class than I did. My local cousins made fun of my “neela, peela Hindi.” (That's a reference to my mispronunciation of the words for blue and yellow. Did I even make it past the primary colors?) I'm a stickler for good grammar, but Hindi's so flexible, so easy going. As with Konkani, it doesn't even matter in which order you put your clauses. But my lifelong struggle, through years of classroom French and Spanish, through years of trying to speak various Indian languages is this: I can't overcome my American accent.
Which reminds me of another incident. As a four-year-old, I made my first trip to India. I have a vivid memory of meeting a beautiful cousin, the same age as me, for the first time. She couldn’t understand a word of English, and I was too embarrassed to attempt speaking Konkani in front of everyone. So when I found myself alone in a room with her, I tried to squeak out a few words in our shared mother tongue. "My name is Supriya. What is your name?" She blinked her beautiful doll eyes at me, probably wondering whether this was that thing called English our grandparents had warned her about. From behind a door somewhere, I heard a gaggle of older cousins break out in hysterics. (What is it with my cousins, anyway?)
Since then (sniff), I’ve suppressed my interest in learning new languages. I know when it comes to practicing in real life, I’m too self conscious. I placed out of most of my college language requirements through advanced credits in high school French. But I completed my remaining requirement by taking a class that focused on reading Sartre and Camus and writing stiff, formal essays about them. No one really needed to hear me stumble over my embarrassing, unwieldy accent, after all.
I do have one unusual linguistic skill that will likely get me nowhere but which I attribute to being a Cancer. If anyone speaks to me in the languages I’ve studied, chances are, I won’t catch the gist. But like a true crab, everything comes to me sideways. I can overhear a detailed conversation in these languages and pick up nine tenths of it. (I know this, because I tend to verify it later.) So small comfort: I may never be proficient in a language other than English, but at least I’ll understand what people are saying behind my back!
Anyone else a dud with languages? I’d really hate to be the only one! Talk to me. In English, preferably.