How my Hindi is Coming Along

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a post in Hindi – I’m due for one soon, I think. I can update you on how it’s been going, though.

As you might remember, over two years ago I was lamenting how difficult it was to find ways to practice Hindi. Looking back at that it seems so far away. Since then so much has happened.

Six months after that I met my current Hindi teacher and we have worked very hard and very well together. I have learned so much. At the same time I made a commitment to myself: If I’m going to do this I’m going to take it seriously. I can’t just go to class once a week, do no homework, and watch a Hindi film once every couple of months and cry about how I’m making so little progress. That’s ridiculous. And so about a year ago I resolved to do something – 30+ minutes/day – in Hindi. Maybe it’s reading, writing, watching Youtube videos, or a podcast. It’s not the immersion I would get if I rented an apartment in Delhi and lived there for six months but it’s made a huge difference.

I also tried something really obvious a few months back: I got over my shyness and asked my friend, P, if she would practice with me when we hang out together. She was happy to oblige.

So how’s it all gone since then?

I’m really pleased with my progress. For the first couple of years I took classes, I would often have a friend ask “Oh, you study Hindi? Say something!” and I would freeze. I couldn’t even get it together to say “मेरा नाम टॉड है |” (My name is Todd). I would um and ah and then say “Well, my vocabulary is still pretty small.” and feel embarrassed.

Last week I was out with my friend P who now not only practices with me but also barely speaks English with me at all. She patiently repeats something I don’t understand, tries to explain words I don’t know in Hindi first before resorting to English. Far from stating my name self-consciously, on this night I was on a packed subway talking to her about my new job, my history with this company, and office politics. I lost myself in the conversation, and sometimes not even translating in my mind – it is as if I got out of my own way and was just talking fluidly.

As I talked, I noticed she was looking over my shoulder at something and I turned to see what it was and I saw that there were two people watching us. An older woman said she was shocked to see me speaking so well and not hesitating at all. The man next to her also said the same and then we talked in a mixture of Hindi and English before we all went our separate ways.

A few folks at work now know I speak Hindi including the woman who sits at the cubicle next to me. Mostly we speak English (it is work, after all) but once or twice a day she’ll spontaneously switch to Hindi and ask me about my weekend or what I cooked and I do my best to switch my mind to Hindi.

Both of these are great practice for me. Talking on the subway and in public not only helps with self-consciousness, it helps me learn to hear well in situations that are not perfect for listening. Every conversation in the world will not be a perfect Skype call or a hangout in a quiet apartment. Sometimes there will be other noises and distractions. Those are just as helpful to learning as vocabulary itself.

After my last trip to India I connected to literally dozens of people whom I met or who were at events that Sage and I were at and they often post in Hindi. It’s not uncommon for one of them to send a WhatsApp or Facebook message in Hindi as well and I get a bit of practice there also.

Lately there has been a series of classic Hindi movies. Next week will be Rajnigandha, but last month was Sholay. Years ago, after my first Hindi class I told some friends at work that I was taking Hindi classes and they taught me my first Hindi sentence: “कितने आदमी थे ?” For a long time my goal was to be able to understand that whole iconic scene without needing subtitles. Over the years I tried and failed but this last time watching it I could understand it without subtitles. In fact, while I still used them a bit at times, I could understand so much of it without them – and I understood enough that I could even hear when the dialog and subtitles didn’t quite match.

I’ve started downloading TV shows for my phone for watching on public transit: Raja Rasoi aur Anya Kahaniyaan is a big favourite. The vocabulary is still often a bit beyond me but there are enough familiar words in it thanks to my love for food that I can follow what’s happening well enough to stick with it. And so I learn new words. Another food-related show that I really enjoy is Itihaas ki Thali Se – short animated bits about food history and origins.

For those with Netflix access – they have it there also with English subtitles.

This week I got a new book to read on my commute to work:

It’s definitely above my reading / vocabulary level. It took a good hour to read two pages, looking up the words I didn’t know and figuring out the complicated-for-me sentences. But for me learning a language is like exercise. If I bike the same distance at the same intensity every day or lift the same weight the same number of times every day I will never improve. I have to work just beyond my comfort zone to provide the pressure to improve.

With all of this, I can quite literally spend hours a day listening and thinking in another language. Last time P and I met we spent about six hours together. That night when I went to sleep my dreams were mostly in Hindi. My vocabulary isn’t big enough for them to be in great detail, but it’s clear to me that my subconscious is processing this.

All that said, I’m still far from perfect. I still make a number of gender mistakes or confuse similar words often to my great embarrassment. The only way to stop making those mistakes, though, is to make them and then learn from them. That means not being afraid to fail and look silly.

I don’t always feel great. Sometimes I still feel like I’ll never learn or that other learners are doing so much better than I am so why should I try, but those feelings come less and less often. And when they do I’m able to remind myself of the things I talked about above. So for 90% of the time I’m having so much fun. I’ve reached a point where I feel that my efforts are starting to pay off and I am beginning to really enjoy it.

As pleased and as proud of myself as I am at this moment, the point I hope all of you can take from this is this: As difficult as it might seem to even find a path in the direction of your goal, don’t give up. Find ways to work toward it with commitment even if they’re small. Those little incremental steps can make a difference. That 30 minute TV show you watch in a new language every day for a year can help you become more fluent. That page a day you write can become a novel in a year. You just have to match your efforts to your desire.

16 thoughts on “How my Hindi is Coming Along

  1. Congratulations for your stick-to-it-tivness! Dedication, commitment, perseverance, and all that jazz.
    As well, thank you for sharing your experience, insight from this experience and the encouragement for the rest of us walking the edge and being tempted to change direction.

    1. Thanks! It is, of course, obvious to me now but somehow it is still a revelation that finding ways to work hard every day will pay off more than finding reasons why working hard is just not possible.

  2. Todd, I am trying my best to improve my speed in Kannada and Sanskrit. I understand everything in Kannada but Sanskrit I have to look up some words though I understand the meaning of the sentence. You have inspired me. Thank you 😊
    Sholay is an all time favourite. Most people who love the movie know all the dialogues.
    Rajanigandha is a beautiful movie. I saw it long back. A simple and touching movie.
    But in these days the last movie we saw in the theatre was seven years ago 😁
    If possible see movies by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

    1. So glad you are motivated to persist with your own language learning.

      Are you far from a theatre or does it just not fit in your schedule and routine?

      Will definitely look for those movies also. Thanks for the tip!

      1. No, the theatre is near but somehow the present day movies just don’t appeal. The very thought of sitting for two hours feels such a waste of time.

      2. I get that for sure. Watching Sholay made me really notice how different movies are now versus then – even in North America. The pace was slower and everything felt calmer. I went back and looked at the beginning of Sholay, for example. We had over five minutes of establishing shots: watching the trip to Thakur’s house with just a bit of music. Today I think the audience would give up and leave. Why are there no explosions yet? Why isn’t there a car chase?

        It’s like movies from the 70’s and before would often ease you in to their world. It was nice.

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