Fluency in a language requires immersion. You can't learn Sanskrit sitting in classroom if no one around you speaks it. You need constant exposure and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of listening time. Sanskrit is a dead language for a reason. You cannot just revive it for over a billion people out of thin air, no matter how badly you want to wax nostalgic over some imaginary glorious past.

Fluency in a language requires immersion. You can't learn Sanskrit sitting in classroom if no one around you speaks it. You need constant exposure and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of listening time. Sanskrit is a dead language for a reason. You cannot just revive it for over a billion people out of thin air, no matter how badly you want to wax nostalgic over some imaginary glorious past.

Smriti Irani – Classroom Sanskrit is Useless

Does Smriti Imrani really think that you can become fluent in a language by formally studying it in a classroom without real world exposure? If only it was so simple! Millions of us have studied languages in school – Sanskrit, French, Tamil, German, etc. Have we become fluent in them without immersion in the region or country?

I’ve been learning French for two years now. I have put my heart and soul into it. 6 months in Alliance Francais before coming to the US. I have around 5-6 French books on my Kindle, and have stacks of French comics sitting next to me. I watch French movies and most of all, I talk to myself in French almost constantly. I have been doing this for 2 whole years.

In addition, on Tuesdays and Fridays I speak to my French friend in Paris who’s trying to improve her English. We speak for half an hour in French and half an hour in English. That’s solid one on one speaking practice with a 100% french native twice a week.

Whenever I see or hear a french person on the streets, I hurry to speak to them and exchange a few sentences. In Chennai, I used to hang around a bakery called Cakewalk near my house because I knew that french students came there often. I would strike up conversations with them in supermarkets, and on the road. In short, I have done everything humanely possible to learn French and speak it to the best of my ability.

I still don’t consider myself fluent.

Next week, Anupa and I leave for France. We’re going to Paris, Nice, and Lyon. This will be the first time I’m going to a country where everyone speaks french. And I expect it to be tough. I’m taking it as an invaluable learning opportunity and intend to fully make use of the experience. I will speak nothing but french for three whole weeks other than to Anupa and her mom. But I have no illusions about carrying on detailed philosophical and political conversations at full speed with french natives.

French people recognize my level and tailor their speech to me. Just like I would do with someone who doesn’t speak English well. This way I improve bit by bit. Slowly by slowly.

And so when I hear people saying “Teach Sanskrit in schools!”, I have to laugh. One does not become fluent in a language by learning it dryly in classrooms. Alliance Francais does its best by forbidding the usage of English entirely. The entire session is in french. How many of our Sanskrit teachers themselves can do that? They have simply mugged up the rules of grammar. But I BET – if I were to ask them to say a simple phrase like “Damn, it’s hot! And I need to pee.” in Sanskrit, they would be left fumbling!

Smiriti Imrani is an imbecile if she thinks everyone is going to suddenly start speaking Sanskrit after learning it in schools or colleges. Without immersion. Without resources like comics, audio, videos, and nursery rhymes. Without comprehensively surrounding themselves with Sanskrit, NO ONE is going to learn this dead language. We don’t have the teachers, or the base speakers.

And most of all, you need motivation. I put everything I had into french. I really wanted to learn it. It’s not as if every student in Alliance Francais is fluent simply because they’re sitting in the class – and that too a class that they have chosen!. Forget about those who are forced to attend them. No way. Not a bloody chance in hell.

In fact, Smriti Irani needs to practice what she preaches. All of them…all these guys waxing eloquent about how the country needs to learn and speak Sanskrit. Please start by doing it yourselves and showing the rest of us. It’s so easy right? Let Irani give a speech in Parliament in Sanskrit that she wrote herself. Let’s see her start conversing with her kids (if she has them) in Sanskrit. With her husband. Let’s see how she herself can incorporate Sankrit into her daily life.

Come on, show us. I want to see this miracle happen. So easy to say “Learn Sanksrit”. The fuck. Are you high? Do have any clue what it takes to learn and become fluent in a language? Is she really this stupid, or just pretending? I have no clue…

Learn Sanskrit my foot. It’s a dead language for a reason. When no one around you speaks it, you’re not going to get fluent, let me tell you.

We never see Europeans clamoring for people to learn Latin. What is this stupid obsession with Sanskrit? You think it’s an Indian language? Not anymore it isn’t. Let it go. You’re just making fools of yourselves.

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Comments

  1. One word: Hebrew.
    Slightly more words: While you are no doubt correct that it would very difficult to revive Sanskrit, it certainly isn’t impossible. Admittedly my example is not a perfect analogy. There would be no point, but that has never stopped people from doing things…

    Reply

    • In reply to Michael

      Yes, I know about Hebrew. And it’s mightily impressive. There are a few important difference though.

      First, a kind of Hebrew was already being spoken in Jerusalem – even half a century before the 1900s. It was never “as dead” as Sanskrit is today.

      Second, the Jews are culturally (and perhaps racially) homogeneous. Unlike India where deciding on a single language is going to be impossible.

      Finally (and probably the largest), there are only around what…less than 10 million speakers of Hebrew? India with a population of 1.2 billion…an exponentially greater task.

      None of this is meant to take away from the tremendous achievement of the Hebrew revival. To my knowledge, such a thing has never been done before. It’s unique. Sanskrit in India however, is a completely different beast. It’s been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years, local people have their own languages that they’re happy with, and the size of India makes it unfeasible to try and replicate Sanskrit.

      Not to mention that the government forcing Sanskrit down people’s throats all the time will probably attract the attention of the Supreme Court and bring up fundamental right violations.

      Reply

      • In reply to bhagwad

        i was actually going to bring up my personal experiences with learning Hebrew, in that it was very difficult to learn and even now still is if you don’t apply yourself. Even in Israel proper, people are willing to speak English a bit too often for good learning purposes.

        Still, the Torah was always in Hebrew and it was always studied, which contributed to the language conversion immensely. So there’s that.

        Reply

  2. Thank you. I feel a little better about my poor Hindi (and non-existent Marathi). a) These languages are so poorly taught in school, with the assumption that the student already knows the language so no need to teach the basics of grammar. I have better command over French grammar which I studied for only two years in school compared to 7 years of Marathi and 3 of Hindi b) I never made an attempt to practice the language(s) though there were so many opportunities because of shyness and I was never forced to because I lived in a place where one could get by with very rudimentary Hindi and English.

    If Sanskrit is going to be taught by the same people who designed the Hindi curriculum, then forget it.

    As for Hebrew, India can’t even get most of its population literate in their mother tongue. Shouldn’t that be the focus? Can Smriti Irani just focus on primary education first? Ouff.

    On another trajectory, China did a very practical thing with pinyin. It tremendously helped literacy. So again, why not focus on devising better ways to enhance literacy in languages that people are already fluent in?

    Reply

    • In reply to The Bride

      Same for me and Tamil. I’ve spent around 10 years in Tamil Nadu, but could get by with English and the basic Tamil for living. If I settle in Chennai permanently, I will definitely learn the language properly.

      I learn languages much better as an adult than as a child!

      Reply

  3. Sir,

    Once more, another great post. I have 2 thoughts right now:

    1.

    HRD Minister Smt. Smriti Irani sure has gone nuts, especially after her failed attempt (continues till date) at hounding the 3 musketeers from JNU (I’m not for nor against them, I feel they’re yet more confused people, swayed by Communist propaganda, who do not know how to achieve what they want), and her “firepower” speech one day being dismantled and destroyed completely by the opposition in the parliament right the next day. She’s but a reflection on how out of touch the Government of India really is with the public that they have to resort to all sorts of imbecilic activities instead of just focusing on their “development”, “vikas”, “acche din”, etc, and a myriad of other Hindi slogans (which I couldn’t understand anyway) and translating them into reality. And that too it’s hardly 2 years since they won an overwhelming majority.

    India is badly falling on all indicators internationally, and within the country, drought is swallowing entire states with the government looking the other way. Indians elected this government to compensate for the inadequacies of the previous one, but this government seems to be puncturing more and more holes into an already crookedly built house. From blundering badly against Pakistan, China, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, to failing the economy, this government is one of the weakest governments since 1947 and it’ll be easily evident to anyone with a reasonable intelligence quotient. And it gets paid back in kind, losing Delhi and Bihar last year, and heading for a straight deposit-emptying rout this year in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while Assam remains its only faint hope.

    2.

    Coming to the topic, if I weren’t a bit well informed, I would have found it extremely puzzling that a DEAD language is being FORCED down the throats of ENGINEERING students. But here’s why the HRD Minister is doing so:

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sanskrit-most-useful-for-science-technology-Rajnath-Singh-says/articleshow/48641682.cms

    http://scroll.in/article/750526/how-sanskrit-came-to-be-considered-the-most-suitable-language-for-computer-software

    https://messybytes.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/nasa-and-sanskrit-as-best-programming-language/

    The problem is this: The paper here was written in 1985 by Rick Briggs who worked for RIACS (established in 1983). This was Briggs’ paper, not NASA’s. And nowhere does it prescribe Sanskrit to replace modern programming languages such as C/C++/COBOL/Java/Python/etc. The author described the grammatical structure of Sanskrit could help to design a better programming/AI language.

    And as usual, our Hindutva friends go overboard with this and declare: “Sanskrit is the best computer programming language and NASA said it!” And nope, I don’t talk only about the fans and the lower echelons of the Hindutva cabal, but its key leaders, like Swamy, who said this.

    But when pointed out as to why it hasn’t been implemented yet, all the conspiracy theories begin. They start blaming “Western Conspiracy” to destroy Sanskrit (even as they point out that “NASA” praised it).

    Once I ask a sensible question like “Okay, IF Sanskrit was identified as the best language by the West, why would they conspire to destroy it?” (After all, according to right wingers, the West and the Gulf Arab Sheikhdoms spend BILLIONS of dollars EVERY YEAR in destroying Hindu culture and civilization, even as they CONSISTENTLY point out the greatness of Hinduism and India by citing WESTERNERS and MUSLIMS), I get all the 4000 Divya Prapandham hymns, the Thevaram & Thiruppugazh hymns, the Christian Carols, the Islamic Nasheeds, and whatever is out there, from the Hindutva keyboard commandos, in other words, all the eloquence like “Jihadi”, “missionary product”, “rice bag covert”, “mullah”, “ISI Agent”, “Pakistani Agent”, “Piggistani”, “sickular”, “anti-Hindu”, “Go to Pakistan”, “son of a whore”, “anti-national”, “illegitimate son of multiple mullahs”, “fucking *insert swear word here*” etc, and of course, some more weird words I don’t understand, like “abe”, “gandu”, “randi”, “aulad”, “chodu”, “bhen ke lode”, “bhosdike”, “kutte”, “suvvar”, “sala”, “sali”, “bhenchod” (or is it “behenchod”?), “madarchod”, “katuwa”, “chutiya”, etc, starts raining, nay, pouring down on me. These are some COMMON words from the dictionary used by right wingers on my page whenever I question them. I’m putting them here as they are, some words may or may not be offensive, but I’m not sure of the meaning behind them. Little do they attempt to know if their target can even UNDERSTAND what they’re saying, much less respond accordingly. Oh, and if I say I don’t know nor understand Hindi, I also get called an American or CIA Agent!

    Oh, and they’re persistent too. They stick on to you like dog shit sticks on to a shoe. Somehow they get the urge to spam and litter my page till the “threat” is neutralized. But in the end, what did they achieve by spamming and littering the Internet? Who knows???

    In my opinion, learning to read/write a language is far far easier than learning to converse in it. I know to read/write Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Devanagari and Russian, though I don’t understand those languages at all.

    I learned French in school from 2009-11, but I can only understand it now, I can’t speak myself. Your suggestion for learning a language is great. However I believe there are still better ways to improve, say like speaking and recording 5-10 phrases of a language, say German, and looping them the whole night on an mp3 player. That one works pretty well as it invokes the subconscious mind. And it’s faster too, in case people are lazy to learn it while conscious. The subconscious mind being 92% of the human mind can do wonders if used properly. I’ll try learning my favorite languages like French, German, Chinese and Japanese in both ways.

    Thanks.

    P.S: As an aside, are you a Tamil? And do you speak/write Tamil well? Just asking… Thanks again.

    Reply

    • In reply to Iniyavel

      No, I don’t speak Tamil except for basic phrases for getting by. Strange, because I spend most of my childhood in TN! It’s one of the reasons why I don’t believe children have an inherent advantage in language learning compared to adults.

      Reply

      • In reply to bhagwad

        Sir,

        I agree that adults can grasp languages better than children. Indeed, as a 23 year old, I’m more determined to learn Chinese and Japanese today, and made ambitious attempts to learn them through the Internet by myself without a mentor’s guidance (time crunch halted me), while I learned to read/write the much simpler Arabic, Urdu and Devanagari when I was 11. I learned to read/write Cyrillic (used in Russian and other former USSR nations) when I was 13-14, and when I looked back at it when I was 20, I became more fluent. But the prospect of East Asian languages was intimidating. Not anymore!

        No issues. Tamil is pretty easy to pickup if you ask me. Especially since it has far lesser letters to read/write compared to other Indian languages.

        But Sanskrit admittedly has a good grammatical structure. It must be utilized to create a new AI/programming language especially for the military and other defense establishments. Indeed, apart from relying on C, C++, Python, Lisp, etc, we must have our own indigenous programming languages, OSes, Network Protocols, defense systems, radars and what not.

        Alas, the HRD Minister Smt. Smriti Irani doesn’t know how to be more creative regarding education. The present government as far as I’ve observed is busy creating problems where none existed before. The HRD Minister is just blindly following the idiotic lead of the Planet of the Apes government. Forcing a dead language upon talented students will backfire even further on this government and turn their potential support bases against them. And as we’ve observed, this government bends over quickly when protests turn violent. See Haryana and Bangalore. Will not students and political leaders and other opportunists take a page out of the book and render this government completely useless and paralyzed?

        There of course IS a village in Karnataka or Maharashtra that speaks Sanskrit. But then ALL Indian languages are influenced by Sanskrit one way or another. Even Tamil, which is pretty distinct from Sanskrit, has some of its influence. For the HRD Minister to force Sanskrit down the throats of ENGINEERING students is – to paraphrase you – MONUMENTAL STUPIDITY.

        This is what happens when the government itself lives 24×7 on Twitter instead of getting off the Internet and seeing reality for what it is. I hardly believe it will ever change its stance. Given that thorough and deep thinking and research is totally lacking in this government, it will bring in more and more absurd and stupid rules and laws that will surely antagonize students even further. For instance, Muslim, Christian and Tamil students will take offense to this imposition and protest against it, even as other students bend over, claiming their shit is also as holy or holier than the government’s. Muslims will protest for Arabic/Urdu imposition, Tamils will demand Tamil imposition, and it will ultimately result in a massive clusterfuck turning the prestigious IITs into grounds for religious and ethnic clashes in the end. Coming down hard on students while handling real terrorists with kid gloves is what this government has been doing since 2014. I’d rename this as COLOSSAL STUPIDITY.

        I wonder if the HRD Minister will force all IIT students to drink cow piss pretty soon, and then Muslims will demand camel piss imposition too, and conduct piss fests every year at the IITs. The way this moron government and its minions are going, I won’t be surprised if that fructifies.

        Right now, I firmly believe that the ONLY institutions maintaining the sanity of the nation are the courts. A 21 gun salute to all the courts across the length and breadth of the nation.

        Sir, I request you to become a US/Canadian citizen as soon as possible, because the way things are going, I don’t think India will be a sane place for long.

        Thanks.

        Reply

  4. Dear Bhagwad,
    Firstly, Forcing a language on students is bad governance. No doubt. Unfortunately Sanskrit is not the only one to be blamed. For eg., Hindi is forced in some places of South India (due 3-language formula). You may point to benefit of its uses.. but that’s not the point. Sanskrit has different uses.

    For instance., If we get out of the city-syndrome and think of a kid living in a village, 30 miles of Gooty in A.P, he would be better off learning Telugu and Kannada for his living. But we force him to learn (Telugu and Hindi) or (Kannada and Hindi) based on the state he falls under, and he has to compete in Hindi marks to a guy living in Hyderabad with Hindi-speaking friends. Yes., its not fair. I know many who wrote X-class Hindi exams, but never spoke a word of it and never have necessity of it in life. So much for practicality.

    Secondly, Learning a language at a young age (< 14 years) is the best & easy way. There is a biological reason to it. Can't learn a language by starting with Grammar. It has to start with expressing oneself. So, if you don't consider yourself fluent in French, its understandable. I couldn't learn Marathi at 20, but I could speak 4 languages before I reached 10. Its not the effort, age does matter. There are kids who speak Sanskrit as their mother-tongue in India today.

    Sanskrit teachers do speak and converse in Sanskrit. I have met many of them, and they don't speak the bookish kind of language. They speak very natural, just as any other language. There's a Lawyer in U.P who has been practicing in Sanskrit for past 38 years. Obviously there's somebody who's understanding him as well.

    Sanskrit is not dead, yet.

    http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/speaking-of-sanskrit-language-situation-of-sanskrit/

    While your statements about Sanskrit's use & prevalence in India isn't true, I agree with you that we should not force it as a curriculum. Its an unnecessary burden on children who are not inclined.

    Reply

    • In reply to Murali

      It’s interesting to know that there are some people who use Sanskrit in their daily lives. I think if the government wants to revive Sanskrit, there needs to be a critical mass of such people pre-existing. Otherwise bad teachers will pass on bad knowledge.

      However, I don’t believe children learn a language inherently better than adults. I think that given the same environment and motivation, an adult can actually learn faster than a child. But the parameters have to be the same. Same exposure, same circle of friends etc. Since you spoke of being 14, I spent 6 years in Tamil Nadu from the age of 8 to 14 (and more after that), but never picked up Tamil. I still can’t speak it – despite spending a massive portion of my childhood there.

      I feel as if I have picked up French much, much faster due to my motivation and targeted learning as an adult. And that too without going to France! Anyway, this is just an opinion.

      Edit: I did a bit of research, and found that children don’t inherently learn a language faster than adults. They sometimes get better results due to social reasons and also because they use simpler language. Personally, I have always felt that adults have the upper hand when truly dedicated. Here’s an interesting article with citations: http://www.effectivelanguagelearning.com/language-learning-tips/language-learning-myths

      Reply

      • In reply to bhagwad

        There are various studies on learning ability of languages. Here’s one: http://www.eldr.com/article/brain-power/why-it-easier-young-children-learn-new-language

        Matt Ridley discusses an interesting experiment on languages in his book Genome. While Adults can learn the language, they find difficulty in freely conversing in it. It is more like they form the idea in their native tongue and then translate it in other language. Children who learn in their formative years are more natural in speech and can be creative in new forms of sentence formation and word usage.

        More often we see that parents who moved to a different country/state, are only moderately successful at learning the accent & dialect, while their children (next gen) are more adept at it.

        There are various ways to measure the learning efficiency and it is possible that at different ages there are different advantages of learning.

        And about the critical mass of people. I don’t think there is critical mass of people in India who will speak French/German too. And we have those languages as well. Sanskrit being a root language of many Indian languages and a language that shares many root words with other classical languages like Tamil is as good a choice as any other language. Most of literature in Indian languages’ old literature can be well understood only with some/proper understanding of Sanskrit.

        Sanskrit is as good as any other 3rd language for most of the kids. Many may forget it as they would forget any other language they’re “forced” to read. They are not any worse-off with Sanskrit. But for the few who take an interest, there is a world of difference in retaining an eco-system. Sanskrit as an “optional” language is a good choice and needs to be supported.

        Reply

      • In reply to Murali

        Yes, I too had the mental block initially of saying something in English, and then translating to French. I don’t do that anymore.

        But this advantage of children would only apply to first languages. What we’re really interested in is L2 – a second language. There the problem is the same for kids as well as adults, since they too will also first form sentences in their native language first – if taught formally.

        I think the perceived differences in language acquisition are social. Namely:

        1. Children speak simpler stuff. Simpler ideas. Simpler vocabulary. A child may be considered fluent in a language, whereas an adult will not simply because the adult has more complicated things to say. With French for example, I can fluently converse with a child. But as soon as I get into politics, complex logic structures etc…it becomes a LOT more difficult.

        2. Children are not as self conscious about making mistakes. This is HUGE. It takes a lot of willpower for me to walk up to a stranger and start conversing with them in French – risking making an idiot of myself. Children have fewer issues like this.

        3. Rewards. Children get massive motivation and rewards from their parents. Every time they open their mouth, the world gasps in awe and treats them like they’re the best thing to happen to this earth!

        I think if I had the same environment as a child while still being an adult, I would achieve fluency far, far quicker. Did you check out the references in the article I linked to initially?

        You’re right about there not being a critical mass of fluent French/German speakers in India (though I would say it’s still more than Sanskrit). That’s why French/German will never become “Indian” languages. Sure, we can teach them in schools electively. We can probably find teachers who are fluent in French and German. Or import them! But finding a teacher who speaks Sanskrit fluently…well, I think that is much more challenging.

        Having said all this, I give my blessings to anyone trying to learn Sanskrit voluntarily. Far be it from me to criticize someone’s hobby. It’s only the question of mandatory study that irks me.

        Reply

  5. Hebrew.

    Btw, I went from learning my first French word to publishing research in French in under 2 years. But then, I understand that you are a writer and so not as good with words as the typical below average scientist like me.

    Reply

    • In reply to Sumit

      @ Sumit,

      It would surprize you, but there are different functional areas in the cerebral cortex of the human brain which process, understand and produce language from those that deal with logic and science. But then, I understand that you are a scientist and so not as good with scientific facts as the typical below average non-scientist like me.

      Reply

  6. You are making perfect sense mate.

    –Blind Oculist @http://theblindoculist.com

    Reply

  7. My son and I are learning Sanskrit. Because we want to. And I am reading Arthashastra shlokas in Sanskrit and seriously, they are a pleasure. The wordplay in Sanskrit is not funny – even at our elementary level, we can enjoy the alliteration and the word play.

    Where did this love for Sanskrit come from? From the written Sanskrit that we were exposed to in school, as part of the curriculum.

    Reply

  8. Learning French or Sanskrit does n;t matter. It is not good to compel a language in schools. Already, Tamil became the must language in Tamilnadu Matriculation schools by removing french language. Hindi becomes the third language and now Sanskrit wanted to be forced on students. Do you think these languages will change your future. No… it may be handy in times but our life is not rested on these languages. English becomes the primary language. If Hindi is not our national language why make Hindi as a third language in schools. I am not against these languages but not to children. Already they are over loaded with lots of stuff and again with Sanskrit. I think uttarkhand state language is Sanskrit, let them have their language grown in Sanskrit, why in south India. Tamil is also an ancient language. some say even before Sanskrit existed, why don’t the government insist on TAMIL and make it as curriculum. Learning a language must come out of interest not with compulsion. Moreover, sanskrit is based on hindu religion, why the government want the Christians and Muslims to go through this language. By bringing sanskrit in to schools you’re indirectly bringing religion into the hearts of the innocent. So far, only the temple priest were uttering sanskrit mantras in temples, let them keep their legacy why a common man, why other religion. Or can you seperate sanskrit and religion from each other. If then you may have a choice. Why the government is focusing on the non moveable language. Let’s think about how to improve english communication skills, how to attend a interview, etc., Lets STOP the thought of teaching sanskrit, we have many things to worry about in education. It is only my thoughts, you decide want you want. The government will put a tuition centre in every city for those who are interested to learn this extra language.

    Reply

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