Ritesh is a first year at Oberlin College interested in studying Chemistry
What other languages do you know and how did you learn each of them?
I know Mauritian Creole, which is my native language that I was born speaking. I also speak French and Hindi and both of them I learned when I was 5 or 6. French and English I know because they are mandatory languages to learn in the public schools where I’m from. I know Hindi because I’m Hindu and my parents wanted me to learn this language.
Which language do you feel like you can communicate best in or are more yourself? What language feels most like home or comfortable to you?
I feel most comfortable using Mauritian Creole. When I use Hindi and English I can’t communicate very well to myself or to other people.
What is your favorite word or phrase in another language besides English that is untranslatable to English? What does it mean?
Parathas is a Hindi word for a tortilla kind of food that doesn’t exist in English. Dholl puri is another word in Creole that is also like a paratha but with yellow lentils stuffed inside then rolled out. A phrase I like in Creole is ‘Ki pe dir la?’ which is what we say as a greeting. Its a combination between how are you and what are you doing right now, but it can’t be directly translated. If I translated it directly to English it would just mean “what is saying here” which doesn’t make any sense. Hahaha.
When you speak in other languages, do you think in the language you’re speaking or translate the words from another language in your head before speaking?
Yes, sometimes I take a long time to answer because I have to think what I want to say in Creole first and then translate it to english and it doesn’t turn out exactly what I want it to be because it’s a literal translation. It’s not easy or comfortable when english isn’t your first language. Its especially difficult to understand questions because the other person is expecting an answer quickly and when I have to take time to translate in my head they get impatient. I’ve been in that situation many times.
When you’re at home, how often do you speak each language, does it change with family and friends?
I speak only Creole when I’m home, except with my grandmother because she speaks another language called Bhojpuri which I don’t speak myself but I understand what she’s saying. Bhojpuri is a mixture between Hindi and Creole, and all elderly people in Mauritius speak it. I use english when I’m in class for every subject except for French class. When the teacher wants to explain something, she explains it in Creole and we usually take notes in English because there’s no formal way of writing in Creole (when we do write in Creole we just write it down like it sounds).