The story of Tower of Babel has always amazed me. I read it first in the Mythical Man-month, the classical collection of essays on software engineering. It emphasized the importance of having a common language. This is how the story goes.
A united humanity speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar, where they resolved to build a city with a tower with its top in the heavens. God came down to see what they did and said: “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.” So God said, “Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” And so God created multiple languages, and the people could not build the city and the tower.
The whole big enterprise collapsed simply because people did not understand each other’s tongues!!!
India has 22 official languages and many scripts. Large number of people do their primary education in vernacular languages. But the higher education and the business is completely done in English. How does a poor boy cope up with this transition from vernacular to English? One could definitely learn the grammar, but what about the vocabulary? For many people educated in vernacular, they think in their mother tongue, but cannot find the right words to express themselves. And when they come across new English words, they cannot understand what it means.
This is exactly the same problem Sunil Shivaji Khandbahale, a poor student from Nashik. Here is his account in his own words. 12 years back, I started this project as a remedy to my own problems. Because, my schooling was in Marathi language, I faced lot of trouble coping with English in my higher-level study. But I took it as an opportunity to learn and invent methodologies to learn new language. It worked for me! So why not for others.
I find this quite amazing. Sunil did not stop by finding a solution for his problem, but started figuring out ways and means to solve the problem for everyone. And his quest for the solution has now taken the form of a whole enterprise, khandbahale.com. It is rated as a top-ranking website for Indian regional languages on Internet. Globally, millions of people visit this website everyday for words & language exchange.
Apart from the website, there are dictionaries that you can buy for desktop and for Java enabled mobile phones. They are all very reasonably priced. I bought and used a Marathi to English dictionary for translating Girish’s Letter to his mother. But now, they have gone even one step ahead and released a browser add-in that helps you translate any word from English to many Indian Languages and vice versa. I downloaded and installed English to Marathi and Marathi to English dictionaries.
So now whenever I need a translation from English to Marathi, all I need to do is highlight the word for which I am seeing the translation and right click. Select the dictionary I want.
And voila! I have the meanings. You can also use it on a regional language site, and get the corresponding English word. I think this is an add-on everyone must install. Install it yourself, and share this post widely.
Sunil Khandbahale has demonstrated what “Being Extraordinary” is. His efforts would help us in solving the confusion of tongues. Hats off to him!