Why don’t you learn to speak Russian, Spanish… ?
Many times while preaching in countries, where these are the local languages, I have been asked why I don’t learn to speak Russian, Spanish, etc. The requests were made due to affection in the hope of bringing our talks to a more friendly and intimate level. I generally appealed to the common sense point that there are many different countries, many with their own language, and it was not practical for me to learn the language of every country where I desired to preach. Sometimes, after much insistance by devotees that I learn their local language, I would ask “Why don’t you learn English? That is a very common language, almost universal. If you learn English you can read our books, so many of which are printed in English as their first language.
Srila Prabhupada (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja) has made the same point, as you may read below.
— Swami B.K. Giri
Date: April 20, 1974
Prabhupāda: You said that one gentleman, his name is Adhyatma?
Indian man (1): He was blaspheming our Society. He was saying [indistinct].
Prabhupāda: I can understand that he is not very favorable. But still, you said that we hate Hindi. You have said like that. Don’t say like that, because there may be one… Because preaching means we have to preach amongst the rascals, but you do not become rascal. He may be… [break] …”Who will read Hindi? You do not… Who will read Hindi? You can read Hindi, that’s all. But who will read outside Hindi? Therefore, Guru Mahārāja…” This should have been the reply. “If there is good customers for Hindi reading, then we can write Hindi books. But nobody will read Hindi.” That should have been the reply. Therefore we write in English. “Why Jawaharlal Nehru write his books in English? Why Dr. Radhakrishnan writes his books in English? He has not written a single book in Hindi. Why? Why he was president? Why he was prime minister? Why did you not criticize him?” That should have been replied, that “As soon as a book is written in English, it is for world reading. And if it is written in Hindi, who is going to read except a few people like you? Why still, Indians, they are sending their children for education through English?” You know that? There are so many English-medium school. Is it not? Yes. Why? Why they are anxious? So much agitation was made for studying Hindi, but then why India still, even in family they are talking in English? In Bombay they talk in English amongst family members. And any gentleman meets another gentleman—he talks in English. Why it has not been stopped? So actually Hindi has no effect, and if we take international rule, what is the use of Hindi? Nobody will like to… And even here, even here in India, who is reading Hindi? Nobody is reading Hindi. It is compulsory in every province, Hindi?
Indian man (1): Not compulsory.
Prabhupāda: Not compulsory. So?
Indian man (1): Not Hindi. Also they are developing local languages. They are teaching English letters now. The latest, they send their childrens to the English-medium schools.
Indian man (1): But these are also…, you study in the local languages. Don’t study English. They are regulated. Now it seems like every college. Only few college [indistinct].
Prabhupāda: Just see. This is going on everywhere. There are so many private schools for teaching English.
Indian man (1): This is what I call cheating, to keep this.
Prabhupāda: They are cheaters.
Indian man (2): [Hindi] …in English.
Prabhupāda: That is their local language.
Indian man (1): Even wordly, everything is in English in world also. But these peoples said, “Why the devotees, they don’t…?”
Prabhupāda: Now, I have earned my practical experience. I am traveling all over the world. Everywhere, if not all, some section they understand English. Everywhere.
Indian man (1): English is common language.
Prabhupāda: Yes. We cannot avoid English.
Pañcadraviḍa: Even we went on an engagement in Bengal to movie theater. They were showing our slides. There they had one Russian movie. It was in English. Russian movie was in English.
Indian man (1): There are so many books Russians put out in English only. In India so many Russian books are there. They’re publishing. All books are in English. They’re using this language for their own purpose.
Prabhupāda: Any book of engineering, medical, technical, they are all in English. And for writing those books in Hindi means he will have to manufacture some words which nobody will understand.
Indian man (2): English in the West is the international language. [indistinct]
Prabhupāda: They are fanatics, those who are after Hindi. Fanatics. Practical point of view, without English there is no exchange.
Indian man (2): He was blasting our Society. That’s why I let him be that.
Prabhupāda: No, still, you should not say like that.
Indian man (3): English, they speak. That’s the language they can understand, many things. And all the people can read it.
Prabhupāda: We are making all over India members with these English books. Why do they not say, “No, no, no, I cannot accept English book”? Why they are accepting English books? It is my fault that I have written in English or it is their fault? Why they are accepting? Everywhere we are making Life Members, but why do they accept these English books? They could have refused, “No, no, no. I cannot accept English book.” Why they are accepting?
Indian man: [indistinct] at least one more [indistinct].
Prabhupāda: I know one boy, he is about forty-two years, but he was practically my first student. He is a very big scholar in Sanskrit. But because he does not know English, he is useless. He could not make any…, prosper in any way. He is taken as half-educated. He was appointed as vice-chancellor of the Darbhanga Sanskrit University. Maybe it is only name. Anyway, now his teaching period is over, now he is useless. He does not get any service, although he is a very big Sanskrit scholar. The only defect, that he does not know English—he does not get any responsible position.
Pañcadraviḍa: He will not learn?
Pañcadraviḍa: He does not want to learn?
Prabhupāda: No, he was trying to learn, but he could not learn it. If he is serious, he can learn, but he is not serious.
Indian man (1): If we learn English perfectly, the local priests will [indistinct] local languages. Because those others don’t speak English anymore.
Prabhupāda: No, local language is required.
Indian man (1): Suppose if we learn English, then we can preach in our local language.
Prabhupāda: Yes, local language is required. No, Hindi also you should learn, but… We can have publication in Hindi also. But when we speak of international organization, English must be there. [break]
Pañcadraviḍa: …getting them into all the schools.
Prabhupāda: Yes. School, college, library, enlightened gentlemen, businessmen, they have all accepted.
Pañcadraviḍa: This is how it would work. This is Akṣayānanda’s work. He has been doing this for some months here now. He goes every day to all the different colleges and schools, and he speaks, and he gives them…, sells them your books for their college libraries. He’s been having a lot of programs like this. They always take the Bhagavad-gītā and Kṛṣṇa books and Nectar of Devotion, like this.
Prabhupāda: Best thing is that “Why your president, he did not write a single Hindi book? He has got so many. He is a famous philosopher, Indian religion, Indian philosophy and Bhagavad-gītā. Then… He has written so many books, but not a single in Hindi.”
Indian man (1): Dr. Radhakrishnan belongs to South India.
Prabhupāda: Yes, he is from Madras.
Indian man (1): Yes, he doesn’t know.
Prabhupāda: No, he does not know. Sometimes, before my taking sannyāsa, sometimes I used to see him. So once upon a time he asked me, “Swāmījī, you are simply writing in English?” So I asked him, “What you are doing?” So he began to laugh. [end]