FAQs: Learning Hindi

Learning a new language is an art. It’s a bit of give and take, trial and error. We have good Hindi days and rough Hindi days. In general we can see progress, but believe me when I say there are days when I think it will take us forever to learn this language.

Many people have asked us different questions ranging from why we’re learning Hindi to how the experience has gone for us. We’re coming to the end of our official language learning season, so I thought I’d answer some of the ones we hear the most often. Make sure to click on audio recordings below to hear us speak in Hindi!

Why are you learning Hindi?

Each state in India has an official state language (imagine people in Washington speaking a language that is completely different from the people in Georgia). The state language of the state we’re moving to is not Hindi, but after visiting our target city multiple times it became very clear that the common language spoken on the streets is Hindi. Hindi, as the most widely spoken language in India with 258 million people claiming it as their native language in 2001, is also the national language. So learning this language not only gives us the ability to conduct business in our city but gives us mobility throughout the country. indian-languages Do you learn from a book or by talking with someone?

We do both! We have a large, grammar book (affectionally called “The Green Book”) one of our language tutors takes us through. We also spend time with other tutors having conversations solely in Hindi to help with fluency and increasing our vocabulary. Green Book

What does a daily Hindi class like?

Like I mentioned in the answer above, we have both grammar classes and conversation classes.

In grammar class, Adam and I personally meet with the a very talented, native Hindi speaker who has been teaching foreigners Hindi for over 20 years. He teaches us the main grammar concepts from “The Green Book” from memory. He’s amazing at slowly increasing the difficulty or newness of the conversation as we learn. He’s also very patient with us as we try to get our mouths and tongues to produce sounds we’ve never heard before.

Our conversation classes consist of Adam and I meeting one on one with a tutor. We follow a method called “Growing Participator Approach”. This method is divided into six phases increasing in difficulty, fluency and one’s ability to fully participate in the new culture.

Phase One is very basic. The language learner produces very little of the language in order to focus more on listening comprehension. We did a lot of pointing, acting things out, drawing pictures and using props to help us quickly increase our vocabulary. GPA Phase 1 Phase Two was all about telling stories. We used wordless picture books to produce simple sentences that hopefully made sense, explained what we saw in a picture and strung together a story. This is where our grammar knowledge helped us immensely! Below is a picture of a page from one of our wordless picture books. I’ve recorded myself describing a few things I see in the picture. Click here for the recording.


Our goal was to reach Phase 3 before we left. Much to our surprise, with the combination of grammar and GPA we are already well into Phase 3 with another month to go! Phase Three now consists of us having full conversations in Hindi about different topics (weddings, memories, family, etc) without the help of pictures. We’re constantly learning new vocabulary (that will probably never end) but feel like we’re finally starting to sound less like babies when we speak as our fluency increases.

What do you do outside of class to practice?

I [Emily] am a tactile, visual learner which has proven to be a bit of a challenge with learning a spoken language. (I am fluent in American Sign Language which seemed to come completely natural to me because it’s completely hands on. *pun intended) Often times I will use the writing or oral practices in “The Green Book” to reinforce a grammar concept and re-expose me to new vocabulary. IMG_8796 One can only do book work for so long. That’s when we go on a hike! Don’t think backpack gear and hiking boots. Instead think an intentional walk around town. We’ll go out with a few errands to get done and intentionally strike up conversations in Hindi with whomever will be patient enough to talk to us. It’s not only great language practice, but helps us meet new people and learn more about the culture.

How is Hindi different from English?

Let me count the ways. 🙂

You cannot separate language from culture…ever. Hindi is full of Indian culture. A simple example is the word मायका (pronounced “mayka”). Traditionally, after a man and woman are married in India the newlyweds move in with the husband’s family. A woman’s “mayka” is her family’s home (both the people who make up her family and the house). Men do not have a word to refer to their family’s home because they don’t leave.

On first glance, probably the biggest difference is the script. Hindi uses Devanagari script. It’s similar to English in the sense that there are vowels and consonants, but how they interact with each other is completely different. Each vowel and consonant are represented by a symbol. When a vowel is attached to a consonant, it has a “matra” or different symbol that is linked with the consonant. Let me write out the word banana (kelaa) for you.

क (ka) and  ल (la) are the consonants in the word.

Attached to क is the vowel ए. That vowel changes symbols, though, because it’s attached to a consonant. So it looks like के.

The vowel आ is attached to the consonant ल. The matra of that vowel changes it to look like ला.

In the end you get  केला (kelaa).

An entire word is linked with a line on the top of the word. Some words are really long (धन्यवाद meaning thank you) while some are really short (मैं meaning I).

After 8 months, how fluent do you think you are?

Adam and I walked past a little boy today who kept asking his mama (in Hindi), “Mom, what’s that? What’s that over there? What’s this?” I realized that’s what we used to sound like when we spoke Hindi. We’d look around the room and constantly say, “What’s this? What’s that? What about this?” We’ve grown up a bit now and have graduated to the next stage of question asking – Why? “Why do they do that? Why did you say it like that? Why do they wear that? Why do they cook the food that way?” So I’d say we probably sound like Kindergarteners. Here’s us talking about things that little kids would talk about – What’s your favorite color? What’s for dinner tonight. Pizza’s my favorite food!

And just like 5-6 year olds, we understand much more than we’re able to communicate. I’d say in any given situation I can understand roughly 70% of what’s being said to me (that is if they don’t speak too fast!). We’ve always wanted our comprehension out weigh our speaking ability, so we’re really encouraged!

What is your favorite word in Hindi?

My favorite word is लिफ़ाफ़ा (lifaafaa) which means…wait for it…envelope. Hindi totally wins on that word!

Adam’s favorite word is स्वतंत्रता (swatnatrataa) which means freedom. There is a more simple word आज़दी (aazaadii), but Adam thought the first word was much more fun…of course!

What’s your favorite #Hindiwin moment?

We order a lot of things online (mainly from Amazon India). The drivers always call for directions when they’re delivering our packages. My name gives away the fact that I’m not Indian pretty quickly, so they normally start out a conversation in English. We always do what we can to speak to people in Hindi, so I responded to everything he said in Hindi. By the end of the conversation he had switched to Hindi and we were both understanding each other!

A funny win for Adam one day was when he called a guy to come fix our water filter. He did his very best to communicate what was wrong with our filter. After patiently listening, the man responded (in English), “You did a very good job, sir, but you can speak in English.”

Learning Hindi has been one of the most difficult things we’ve ever done. There are few things in my life, though, that have ever felt as rewarding. It’s such a joy to see someone’s face light up when we attempt to speak to them in their native language! And as we finish up this leg of intense language learning, we look forward to continuing to meet with people and start sounding more and more like a native Indian!

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