Is it English or Auto-Pilot???

Over the years, I’ve come to like English language. As a kid I used to read and talk in English but as my usage of the language has increased, I have graduated to thinking in English (most of the times, though sometimes I can’t help but think in Gujarati :))

Recently, I was teaching spoken English to a teenage Gujarati-medium student.  When for 15 years you have learnt one language and are thinking, listening and understanding everything in that language, then learning a new language can be a very different and a difficult experience. For me, teaching him was a challenge. His questions and thought-process behind answers/questions was very different from my English-medium students. He was in a constant battle with the logic his Gujarati-medium education had ingrained in him. I am not saying that a Gujarati medium education is bad but each language has a different base and it’s easiest to learn a language from our childhood. If I were to teach an English-medium student, Gujarati language at the age of 15, I’m sure he will apply his English education logic to learning Gujarati.

Over the last month, as we both were discovering English language from its root, we tried – unsuccessfully – to solve many English language mysteries which I had never ever questioned or thought about before. I’ll list a few here:

  • When to pronounce “c” with a “k” sound and when with an “s” sound – example – CUT and EXCITE. I had never thought about “c” pronunciations before so when he asked me this question I was scratching my head for five minutes. Then I took a page and started writing all the C words I could think of and I could think of this logic – Pronounce “c” with a “k” sound where C is followed by vowels – A, O, U (examples cut, cot, cat) and with an “s” sound when C is followed by vowels E and I (examples cipher and excite).
  • One day we did a session on guessing the meanings of words based on their spellings and pronunciations. While we learnt little, we surely discovered that “English is funny language.”  For starters, let’s take “boondoggle”, it means an expensive and wasteful project. When I asked him to guess the meaning, he said, “it’s probably something related to the boon of using an internet dongle.” Next, we went to “switcheroo”, the meaning of which is fairly simple, an act of swapping two objects. But we still had a good laugh over it because it sounds like someone swapped “loo” and “switch” to make the word. “Ambush” is another funny one, while it means a surprise attack, he said, “it sounds like a call for help ‘I’m in a bush’.”

In the end, what I’m trying to say is that in the one month I couldn’t really answer many of his questions nor could I teach him much but I feel that I definitely learnt something. Once our familiarity with a subject, a language, a person, or a relationship increases, we stop thinking. We go into an auto-pilot mode, not thinking about anything and just reacting most of the time.

While auto-pilot is OK once in a while, where is the charm in it? Why learn to fly a plane when you’re going to use auto-pilot? Hence, after my English teaching bout with the Gujarati-medium student, I’m no longer on auto-pilot when it comes to my English. I’ve become more aware of the new words and the new writing styles I read and what I write. I’m also trying to reduce auto-pilot-giri in my relationships and taking more effort to connect with people.


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