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From a country of five languages

Anisha Sheth



GRAND SEND OFF:The students of Timor-leste, rendering songs at farewell party at St. Joseph's Engineering College, Vamanjoor, in Mangalore on Sunday.

MANGALORE: Twenty-four students spent 10 months in Mangalore learning English to communicate among themselves in two languages not their mother-tongues. Like India, one of them, is a legacy of their colonial history.

Welcome to the Class of 2011. Hailing from different parts of Timor-Leste, the world's youngest democracy, they were sent here to learn English. Educated in neighbouring Indonesia, these engineers each speak five languages: Tetum (a language spoken throughout the tiny country), Portuguese (Timor-Leste was a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years), Bahasa Indonesia (courtesy a 24 year violent occupation by Indonesia), their respective mother-tongues (Timor has around 30 separate languages), and recently English.

During the farewell held in an engineering college here on Sunday, a constant refrain among the students was to return home and work for the country's development. The future course of action depends on how well they do in the IELTS examination. All of them, however, appeared to feel that knowledge of English was important for them to get jobs.

The group is aged between 25 and 31. They explained that their schooling had not been disrupted by the Indonesian occupation. But now, with their own government, children learn Tetum and Portuguese, and from junior high school onwards, English.

Teresa Dmedef A.A. described her country as “small…very small”. When this correspondent asked Jose Freija what the population of Timor-Leste was, he replied. A moment later, he asked if that was more than Mangalore. When told that yes, one million people was definitely more than the population of Mangalore, he said he was happy that Timor was at least larger than Mangalore.

The students have visited malls, beaches in the city, and have been to Goa, which they find very similar to their own country. Back in Timor-Leste, malls are a two or three years old and somehow, Bollywood seems to have a following in that country of slightly over a million people. Several of them mentioned Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, and 3 Idiots.

Gerson Jeronimo said: “I think every East Timor child will know Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. My mother, grandmother and sister… they all cried watching the film.” However, registering an apparent dislike for the melodrama, Ivonio Alves said with a slight grimace: “Too much emotion”.

Surprisingly like many urban Indians, pulling out traditional clothes for special occasions is fairly common. Otherwise, many of them dress in western clothes.

One of the officials of the college meant well when he advised the students during the farewell to “never to speak their own language when they go back home”. However, responding to it later, a student said with a laugh: “If we speak English at home, people will laugh at us and call us show-offs.” They are heading back home on Tuesday.

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