Why learn Hindi?
Even though Hindi might not give you exciting career possibilities, and you probably won’t be able to speak it every day, it is a great language to learn, for several reasons. You can hear it spoken more and more frequently even in Europe. Like some of my students, you might even find yourself involved in a relationship with a Hindi-speaking person. What’s more, through Hindi you can access Bollywood cinema. Did you know that Indian film industry is the biggest in the world? Hindi movies made in Mumbai make up only a part of it, but even this part is so big that just watching those films and listening to their catchy songs can keep you busy for several years.
How to start learning Hindi?
The most obvious start – after namaste (‘good morning/goodbye’) – is the script. For some students it’s a delight, for some a nightmare. In any case – it makes you reconsider the obviousness of a Latin alphabet. Devanagari (‘[script] from the city of gods’ – beautiful name, isn’t it?) is not an alphabet in a strict sense, because the signs represent syllables, not letters. Unlike Latin, the signs are arranged logically and not randomly. The order reflects the way the sounds are pronounced – in which part of the mouth, with or without aspiration, etc. If you like symmetry and clear rules, you will find Devanagari to be pure beauty.
How difficult is the grammar?
If you already speak one or more languages from the Indo-European family, then Hindi grammar is not rocket science. The basic concepts of tenses are pretty much the same as in English – simple tenses, continuous tenses, perfect tenses; nouns and adjectives agree in gender and number just like they do e.g. in German. There are some peculiarities, like the absence of the verb “to have” or the way past simple tense is built. Still, the Indo-European core keeps you safe on the ground.
To put it honestly: Hindi has a lot of words taken from different sources. Depending on whether you casually chat with someone, watch news, or listen to a song, you may encounter either Hinglish (English vocabulary glued together with Hindi grammar), a heavily Sanskritized shuddh Hindi (‘pure Hindi’), or what was in the past called Hindustani and spoken by Indian Muslims, full of loanwords from Persian and Arabic. It may seem like a huge mess, but the richness and diversity of Hindi and its vocabulary reflects the complicated history and politics of the region.
Through Hindi, you will not only challenge your brain to learn new concepts and structures, but – even more importantly – you will be able to access another culture with its fascinating complexity!
Written by Natalia Wojnakowska