Urgent Support

Coping with the change in language

Dia hails from a relatively small town in India. Everyone around her spoke in her regional language, including her teachers at school and college. She worked hard to study and get admission at IITB. When she came to campus, she realised that many students around her were talking to each other in English or Hindi, including in the cafeterias. The lectures were taught only in English.

It was difficult to keep up in class and then interact with others outside. She felt ashamed, left out, and out of place. She often wondered if she would ever be able to make sense of what was happening, keep up with others, make friends, or feel comfortable here. As days passed, she started feeling more and more left out, she even began isolating herself actively.

For most of us English is a second language.

If our families and social circles communicated largely in our mother tongue, or the schools and colleges we attended didn’t teach in English, it is very natural to not be completely comfortable with it.

If you’re uncomfortable with the English language, please remember

It's true that English remains the primary language used at IIT for the purpose of academics, including teaching in classrooms. One may also find that different organisations, fests, clubs, and students in social situations use English for communication.

It can be an alienating/isolating experience when people around you use a language you’re not fully comfortable with.

Also, many of us have grown up in a culture that had us believe that being able to speak English somehow made the person superior or that an English-speaking person was more qualified/ worthy/ knowledgeable etc.

But it's important to remember, especially at times when feelings of inferiority may come up, that these ideas are not true. There is nothing wrong or embarrassing about not being able to speak fluent English. And you deserve to be here as much as anyone else.

Things you can do to improve your comfort with English
  • English, like all other languages can be learned with practice.
    Some things that can be useful:

    • Doing some reading before class so the topic being discussed is easier to follow.
    • Having written material that you can refer to.
    • Feel free to politely ask people to repeat parts that have been difficult to understand in the language that you’re comfortable with.
    • Noting down things/words you may not understand during class and looking them up later.
    • Practicing speaking it with peers you feel comfortable with.
    • Watching videos and listening to it being spoken.
  • It is natural to feel irritated/angry/sad that you have to put in extra work/hours that some other students may not have to that the systems is partial.

    There are various resources and support structures available on campus. Please don’t hesitate in asking for help.

    Reach out to classmates, friends you’re comfortable with. You could also talk to your mentor or professors to find ways to make the process easier.

    Know more
  • Know that your comfort with the language will improve with time and practice and it won’t always feel this difficult.

  • If you’re being discriminated against because of the language you speak, it is not okay. Please refer to this article on dealing with discrimination.

    Know more
You can listen to similar experiences of other IITians and how they coped. Know more
Finally, when the emotions get overwhelming or when you are simply confused about what is happening to you, talking to a counsellor at the Student Wellness Centre could give relief and provide guidance about what you can do.
A message for students at large
  • Acknowledge your own privilege and be sensitive to the fact that you had the access and means to learn English from before and this increased how comfortable you felt during lectures, and at different spaces on campus. While you’re putting in a lot of work too, you do not have the added pressure of learning a relatively new language.
  • Don’t discriminate, bully, or exclude people based on the language they speak.
  • If you’re part of a club or any group and creating or putting out material for students, include as many languages as possible.