Aarushi Tibrewala, a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College from northeast India, started learning Arabic in her first semester of freshman year. Though she contemplated the difficulty of the language, she decided to take it on. “I didn’t want to learn a mainstream language like French or German but still wanted the challenge of learning a new alphabet,” she said.

In addition to Arabic, Tibrewala is fluent in English and three Indian languages (Assamese, Bengali, Hindi) and can understand a fourth (Marwari). She claims it is not a big deal because most people in India are bilingual. And she’s right. Nearly 20 percent of India’s population, about 240 million people, are multilingual, according to India’s 2001 census.

The Tibrewala family originated in northwest India. Tibrewala’s great-great-grandparents were landlords in Rajasthan; family feuds however forced them to move to Tezpur, Assam, in northeast India. The state of Assam has its own language, so Tibrewala’s grandparents and father grew up learning their mother tongue of Marwari (native to Rajasthan) as well as Assamese.

As a result, Tibrewala grew up learning multiple languages: with her great-grandmother speaking Marwari, her grandparents communicating in Assamese, her father conversing in Hindi, and her mother chatting in Bengali (native to west Bengal where she was raised).

In addition, Tibrewala attended boarding school in Uttarakhand, North India, when she was in fifth grade. She met friends from all over the country and picked up on even more languages and cultures, including Punjabi (the native language of Punjab).

Each Indian language has a different alphabet, though they are similar in script. As of now, Tibrewala knows five different alphabets. Despite this impressive achievement, she remains humble and credits her knowledge of languages to her early exposure to them.

“My knowledge of Bengali, Assamese and Marwari is highly insignificant just because people don’t even know that they’re languages,” she says. Though she doesn’t get the credit she deserves, she finds personal value in knowing several of her country’s languages.

As an economics and international relations major, Tibrewala plans to continue learning Arabic to a proficient level, hoping that her strong foundation in foreign languages will aid her in possible endeavors as a consultant at a multinational corporation.

(Written by Christina Yoh, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Sept. 17, 2015)

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