On language, thinking, and dreaming
And communicating, connecting and creating...
I grew up in the Southern part of India of Tamilnadu, speaking the Tamil language. Though from a highly populous country, I had the benefit of studying in an Anglo-Indian School thanks to the persistence that my mother put in. She was instrumental in literally begging for a seat (and using some real tears effectively in the process), not taking “no” for an answer to get me admitted into the school that I spent my time from Grade 5-12. So, one could say I was bilingual all along supported by the East India company’s British legacy in India and the nuns and Christianity that they brought here with them.
My English was rudimentary growing up. I did not get the nuances of the language and with having ADHD my learning disabilities mean (that I still) find it hard to process multi-syllable words. They say that you need to have a vocabulary of around 5,000 English words to get by and I am sure that it was the extent of my vocabulary.
I first came to the US in 1999 and then subsequently settled in Canada in 2005. I distinctly remember that my dreams used to be in my local language (Tamil) around that time, in the late nineties and in the early 2000s. So was my thinking - ideas came to me in the local language and I then translated them to English to complete the formation of my thoughts. I don’t get very many of them but my dreams were also in Tamil.
I relearnt some of my English appearing for a TOEFL exam while in Singapore as a pre-condition for both starting my MBA program as well as a pre-requisite to prove my English skills for my Canadian immigration application.
But as I settled more into a North American context somewhere around the late 2000’s I realized that both my dreaming and my primary thinking had shifted to English rather than an intermediate translation step. It was an organic process, though the use of my native language is still completely very proficient - though my writing skills are slowly being lost due to lack of practice.
I had reading challenges and for a while (around 25 years) I had not been able to read any book at all. My inability to focus meant that I could not read beyond a paragraph or two before the words started fighting me. That was until I found Audible and then Scribd (and YouTube) and started listening to books and other content.
So, in the last 5-7 years, I have been ferociously catching up on my reading compensating for the lost years. Growing up I used to read fiction until I was in high school and now I read mostly only non-fiction but on an extensively subject base from arts, biographies, memoirs, business, education, learning, health, literature, money, finance, politics, social sciences, history, science, neurology, psychology, philosophy, language, religion, and cross-connecting ideas and perspectives across various subjects.
In recent times, my vocabulary also has increased. I am sure it has doubled or tripled to between 10,000-15,000 words now though it is difficult to determine. The iPhone and my Mac are a great help as a tool since I use the highlight/right-click “lookup” feature to check the dictionary meanings of words while I read. I also use Google as a support tool a lot, both to look for words and their meanings, but also for their antonyms and synonyms all the time.
And I am yet to be finished. And continue the joy of learning and connecting and dreaming. And working on the missing piece of deriving some major utility from all this… though some might say, it is the journey that counts.