Does Saroo Brierley Speak Hindi?

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Saroo Brierley’s incredible journey to find his long lost family in India after being accidentally separated from them as a child has captivated the world. The story of how a five-year-old Indian boy survived alone on the streets of Calcutta, was adopted by an Australian couple, and then used Google Earth 25 years later to retrace his steps back home is truly remarkable.

But one question many people have is – does Saroo Brierley actually speak Hindi?

Saroo’s Early Life in India

Saroo was born in 1981 in Ganesh Talai, a tiny rural village in central India. His family lived in extreme poverty, with his mother Kamla working long days carrying rocks at construction sites and his father having left the family when Saroo was very young.

Saroo spoke Hindi as well as the regional language Bengali with his family and friends during his early childhood. However, after he was separated from his family at age 5 and ended up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), he learned to speak Bengali exclusively in order to communicate and survive on the streets.

Does Saroo Brierley Speak Hindi?

Adoption and Life in Australia

In 1986, Saroo was adopted by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley, and moved to Hobart, Tasmania. This began his assimilation into Australian culture and language.

John and Sue put Saroo into speech therapy right away to help him learn English. After some initial struggles, Saroo quickly became fluent in English within a couple of years. He attended an Australian school, made new friends, and gradually lost touch with his mother tongue.

Having become detached from his roots in India, Saroo’s memories of his childhood faded, including his ability to speak Hindi and Bengali. English became his primary and eventually only language.

The Search Using Google Earth

Decades later, the release of Google Earth in 2005 rekindled Saroo’s curiosities about his origins. He spent hours combing over satellite images of India, looking for landmarks he remembered.

After obsessively searching for months, Saroo finally located his hometown in 2008. The next year, he traveled back to India and visited the village for an emotional reunion with his biological mother and sister.

However, the language barrier immediately became an issue. After so many years apart, neither Saroo nor his mother Kamla could understand each other’s speech.

Overcoming the Language Gap

Upon their reunion, Saroo and Kamla had to rely on an English-Hindi translator to communicate. Saroo greeted his mother in English, saying “I’m Saroo. Do you know who I am?” She did not understand him, but the translator conveyed his message, to which she responded in Hindi that she knew he was her son.

According to Saroo:

“We didn’t speak each other’s language and we had to have a translator…I said ‘Yes I’m Saroo, are you she?’ And that was the first time wehugged in 24 years.”

Saroo’s complete assimilation into Australian culture meant he had long forgotten the native Indian tongues of his youth. And after so many years, Kamla did not recognize the English her son spoke. Their language and cultural divide made conversation difficult at first.

Over several more visits, Saroo picked up a few Hindi words again, but not fluently. Though challenging, the incredible mother and son reunion was an emotional and joyful event after nearly 25 years apart.

Why Saroo No Longer Spoke His Native Language

There are several reasons why Saroo lost his ability to speak his native Hindi after being adopted in Australia:

  • Age of separation – Saroo was only 5 years old when he became lost in Calcutta. At this young age, children typically speak but have not yet become fluent in reading, writing, or formal grammar in their native tongue.
  • Immersed in a foreign culture – Saroo’s adoption and life in Australia completely immersed him in English language and culture at a critical age for development. This caused his memories of Hindi/Bengali to fade.
  • Lack of practice – Not speaking, hearing, reading, or writing Hindi for over 25 years meant Saroo had no reinforcement of the language. His Hindi vocabulary and grammar skills attrited without practice.
  • Trauma and adjustment – The trauma of getting lost and adjusting to a new family likely overwhelmed any language ties. Focus shifted completely to learning English.

So in summary, Saroo’s young age, new cultural environment, and lack of practice for decades meant he simply lost his childhood languages after assimilation into Australian society and speaking only English.

Could Saroo Relearn Hindi?

Even though Saroo Brierley no longer spoke fluent Hindi and could not easily converse with his biological mother after reuniting in 2009, it is certainly possible for him to relearn Hindi as an adult later if he chose to do so.

Here are some ways Saroo could potentially regain proficiency in Hindi:

  • Take adult language classes in Hindi – formal instruction would reintroduce vocabulary and grammar.
  • Use language-learning apps like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone for self-guided lessons.
  • Watch Bollywood movies and TV shows in Hindi to re-familiarize himself with the sounds and patterns.
  • Read books, newspapers, magazines in Hindi to broaden vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Listen to Hindi radio programs and podcasts.
  • Interact regularly with native Hindi speakers who could correct mistakes.
  • Travel frequently to India to immerse himself in real conversational settings.
  • Get a tutor for personalized instruction and practice.

With dedicated study and immersion, language experts agree it is possible at any age to relearn a childhood language that has been forgotten over time. Saroo would have many resources available if he chose to commit to reacquiring his native Hindi or Bengali language skills.

How Saroo’s Story Inspired the Film “Lion”

Saroo Brierley’s incredible true story inspired the Academy Award nominated 2016 film Lion, starring Dev Patel as Saroo and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive Australian mother.

The movie depicts in vivid detail young Saroo’s terrifying ordeal of getting lost on a train across India at just 5 years old, then surviving homelessness on the streets of Calcutta before his eventual adoption and new life in Australia.

Lion also portrays the emotional reunion of Saroo with his biological mother 25 years later, poignantly showing the initial language barrier using a translator. While a work of cinematic fiction, the film accurately captures the essence of Saroo’s life journey and the challenges of bridging their cultural and language divide.

Saroo’s real-world story and its adaptation into the Lion film inspire people everywhere to appreciate family, never lose hope, and overcome obstacles like language barriers when searching for belonging.

How Losing His Language Impacted Saroo’s Cultural Identity

For Saroo Brierley, losing his native Hindi language skills as a child after adoption into Australian society proved to have a profound impact on his cultural identity later in life.

Some ways this language loss affected Saroo’s sense of identity:

  • Weaker bond with birth heritage – Not retaining Hindi made it harder to relate to his Indian origins.
  • Difficulty connecting with biological family – The language gap with his mother and sister was an obvious hindrance.
  • Feeling “between two worlds” – Neither fully Indian nor fully Australian, Saroo felt torn between cultures.
  • Appreciation when re-exposed to Hindi – Hearing the language upon his return to India sparked poignant memories.
  • Motivation to teach his children Hindi – To pass on the language and culture he lost to the next generation.

Despite no longer being fluent after adopting English and Australian culture, Saroo says he never forgot being Indian at heart. Reuniting with his mother and re-experiencing his homeland renewed his appreciation for his roots and the language, which he hopes to regain and share with his own children someday.

How Parents Can Prevent Language Loss in Adopted Children

Saroo Brierley’s story contains lessons for adoptive parents about preventing cultural and linguistic loss in children adopted from foreign countries. Some tips include:

  • Learn basics in the child’s native language to communicate and create initial bonds.
  • Provide regular foreign language instruction/tutoring as the child learns English.
  • Foster friendships with other families who speak the native language.
  • Travel back to child’s home country when possible to immerse in the language and culture.
  • Cook traditional foods and celebrate cultural holidays and events.
  • Surround child with native language books, movies, music and art.
  • Encourage pride in the child’s cultural identity, not just assimilation.

With deliberate effort, adopted parents can help children retain ties to their mother tongue and heritage, so they don’t lose that vital linguistic and cultural connection as Saroo did. Maintaining those bonds enriches the child’s sense of identity.


Saroo Brierley’s incredible story touches people worldwide with its themes of family, hope, identity, and overcoming adversity. A key aspect many find relatable is the language and cultural disconnect Saroo experienced after losing his native Hindi following adoption in Australia. His real-life saga and depiction in the film Lion spotlight the challenges of bridging language divides and retaining cultural identity in immigrant/adoptive situations. Saroo’s journey shows that with effort, understanding, and compassion, even lost languages can be relearned and cultural connections reforged.

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