Friday, July 27, 2012

Grant for Asian Language study in Asia - Hindi in India: Landour Language School

In the last weeks of the Hindi course at the Landour Language School, I progressed at a slower pace than previously. Having ‘conquered’ the basic rules of the alphabet and grammar, I swiftly moved onto the farther regions of the Hindi syntax. This chiefly consisted of mastering four verb tenses: (1) the past; (2) the future; (3) their respective continuous forms; (4) and the imperfect. Initially, this looked simple as all these tenses depart from the root of the verb (e.g., the root of the verb ‘to eat’, ‘ka’, becomes ‘kaya’ in the first person of the past, ‘kaunga’ in the future, ‘ka raha hum’ in the present continuous, and ‘kata’ in the present imperfect). Thus, the formation of verb tenses in Hindi seemed to solely involve the addition of suffixes or auxiliary verbs to the original root. However, this was only one step towards the usage of verb tenses in Hindi.

In addition to the existence of irregular verbs (which change according to the particular verb tense being used) and different suffixes for each personal pronoun, there is also variation in the subject itself (e.g., ‘I’ can take four distinct forms) as well as in the structure of the sentence (e.g., the verb can either agree with the subject or the object). This, along with other linguistic features (such as the degree of formality and certain idiomatic usages), makes up for rather complex and meticulous sentence construction. During this period, I found that while learning and understanding the rules can be quite straightforward, employing them correctly in oral conversation is a completely different matter. This requires repeated and persistent practice.  

I was finally able to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, the pic (taken from my Iphone) is not as clear as real life.

Fortunately, the teachers at the Landour Language School had the patience and experience to guide me through this difficult stage of Hindi language learning. Hence, in the last weeks at the school, we focused on developing my oral skills, mainly through relentless hours of reading and conversation. While improving my speaking skills, this also broadened the scope of my vocabulary. One facilitating factor for the English speaker consists of the shared vocabulary between the two languages. Thus, when in doubt, one may employ the English word. Yet, as I later found out in my ‘real world’ interactions, this commonality can be misleading. In particular, the ‘street’ pronunciation of English words here tends to be rather different from the standard one used in the UK and the US. For that reason, using English words in Hindi sentences can lead to further confusion (e.g., when I asked a rickshaw driver to take me to the city/shaher ‘museum,’ he took me instead to the city ‘mill’); instead, the best approach seems to use as much Hindi vocabulary as possible.

 Monsoon clouds gather atop the foothills of the Himalayas in the afternoon. Quite a spectacle! 

While I am still far from becoming fluent in Hindi, during these weeks I was able to overcome significant hurdles and break away from basic conversations around my name, origin and age. I now feel confidently enough to find my way in common day-to-day situations, such as visiting a market or giving directions to a rickshaw driver. I have also learnt important vocabulary about politics and society, which will hopefully be useful for my future dissertation research in India. As a teacher told me in one of my last lessons, I now possess a solid basis to speak, read and write Hindi. I could not have accomplished this without the kind help and support of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies. For that reason, I think it is only appropriate to finish this post by expressing my deepest gratitude to the center for providing me this excellent opportunity to learn Hindi language in India.

Diogo Lemos
PhD student in Political Science 
2012 Sigur Center Grant for Asian Language Study in Asia
Hindi in India


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