Have you decided to discover the language and culture of India and learn Hindi?
Hindi is an Indian language of the Indo-Aryan family spoken in the northern part of the country. It is spoken by over 500 million people worldwide and is one of the main languages in India. Many (though not all!) Indians who might have Gujarati, Punjabi, Kannada, Tamil, Bengali or Marathi as their native tongue speak Hindi as a second language.
But it’s one thing to learn grammar and set phrases, and another to learn to speak like a native speaker. Here are a few suggestions to help you improve your conversational Hindi.
A Guide to the Hindi Alphabet
The Hindi script is called Devanagari and was first used to write Sanskrit.
It is a little different from our alphabet, in that each consonant is actually a syllable: its phonetic value consists of a consonant sound + a.
To write consonant sound + other vowel sound, you must modify the consonant using diacritic signs.
Vowels also exist as independent signs, but these are only used if a vowel stands on its own or at the beginning of a word.
In other words, when learning the Hindi alphabet, you not only have to learn the Hindi letter for the consonant and vowel sounds but also how each consonant is modified depending on the vowel following it.
To further complicate matters, frequent consonant combinations are often slightly modified and written as one letter, so-called ligatures.
All this makes learning Hindi vocabulary all the more challenging!
Writing Hindi in transliteration
There is a way to write Hindi with the Latin alphabet, called transliteration. Unfortunately, it is not normed, so that different teachers and even native speakers of Hindi will write the same words slightly differently in the Latin alphabet, depending on what system they are using.
For example, some write long vowels by doubling them, others by adding an “h” at the end and still others by putting a dash above the letter.
Thus, the long “a” can be transcribed variously as:
This is why it is better to write your vocabulary flashcards in Devanagari. That way you can practice writing the Hindi alphabet while at the same time always being certain of what sound you are writing down!
Remember, though: if you are learning Urdu (the version of Hindustani spoken in Pakistan), you will need to learn the Nasta’liq script, a Persian calligraphy writing based on Arabic.
Don’t forget to learn how to write the Hindi numbers, too!
How To Learn Hindi Pronunciation
Learning a new language means not only learning grammar and vocabulary but also being understood. This means that you need to pronounce Hindi common words properly. No-one expects you to have a perfect accent, but the better you can approximate the correct way to pronounce Hindi words, the better you will be able to communicate.
After all, you have had to deal with tourists sometimes who are trying to speak English - the easier you can understand them, the better you can help them.
So how can you improve your Hindi pronunciation?
- You can listen to native speakers say the words and phrases you are learning to hear how they are pronounced. Many an online Hindi dictionary has a feature that lets you hear the words spoken, or you can watch films or listen to a Hindi podcast or watch a Hindi video.
- Then, try and pronounce the word yourself - but record yourself (on your phone, laptop, wherever…)
- Listen to your recording, then to the original again. Find out where you are sloppy, or what sounds you have trouble making.
- Record again and see if you have made any improvement.
Beginners can work on individual sounds first, then move one to individual words, then Hindi phrases.
Remember, pronunciation is not just about sounds, but about rhythm, too. Listen to people speaking Hindi and hear which syllable they emphasise in a word and which words in a sentence.
Also, listen to tone - Hindi speakers tend not to lower their voices at the end of a sentence like the English. Watch out for other differences in intonation within the Hindi Language.
Improve Your Hindi Conversation With These Tricks
You know the Hindi alphabet by heart and can pronounce it perfectly - but you freeze up whenever you have to have a conversation in Hindi? Here are some ways you can improve your Hindi and learn to speak Hindi fluently.
Speak with native Hindi speakers
When learning Hindi, the best way to practice conversations is - to have them. And the ideal way to improve your language skills is to talk with someone who:
- is a native speaker
- can correct you when you make mistakes
There are two ways you can do this:
- Find a language partner for a language exchange: he or she will teach you Hindi in exchange for practising their English
- Language tutors who can speak to you in Hindi as well as help you learn new words and expressions, teach you Hindi verb tenses and how to recognise masculine and feminine nouns.
You can also learn Hindi online through Skype - for example, a language partner or tutor actually living in India!
Learn Hindi with language immersion
Even better than simply talking with someone from India is to go to India yourself. While staying there, you can interact with native Hindi speakers on a daily basis and in a variety of situations. You will constantly have to call on the vocabulary you learned in your language course in Hindi and be confronted with new words. If you stay more than just a few weeks in a country, you can become fairly fluent in any foreign language - including Hindi.
There are several ways you can immerse yourself in India to learn a new language:
- Take an immersion holiday. They are generally at least a tad longer than your usual two-week holiday, might include language courses and try to get you out and talking, or at least listening. You will be exposed to a lot of Indian culture - for example, you might go see a play or a Bollywood movie.
- Become an au-pair. As an au-pair in a foreign land, you will be expected to work for a guest family. In return, they provide food and board and some time off to take language classes.
Learning Hindi with Hindi Films
If you can't make it to India, you can still practise your Hindi listening skills with the best Bollywood has to offer.
Careful - not every Indian movie is in Hindi! Here are a few to get you started.
A Hindi romance with Guide (1965)
Based on the novel by R.K. Narayan, Vijay Anand’s Guide is the tale of a Raju (Dev Anand), a tour guide who falls in love with Rosie (played by Waheeda Rehman) the wife of an archaeologist. She was a dancer who was forced to give up her career when she married and is unhappy. Raju convinces her to leave her husband and take up dancing again, but her rise to fame does neither of them good…
Learn a new language with the Hindi action film Sholay (1975)
This classic film (”Embers” in English) follows two criminals, Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) who are hired by a police officer (Sanjeev Kumar) to help him capture the renowned dacoit (a bandit chief) Gabbar Singh (played by Amjad Khan). Despite negative reviews on opening, this film was an audience favourite and has made it to the British Film Institute’s top 10 list of the best Indian films.
It’s of a type called a dacoit western - using many of the tropes and storytelling methods of classical Western films juxtaposed onto the Indian dacoit bandits.
Acquire proficiency in Hindi with the Hindi drama Dangal (2016)
This sports film loosely based on a true story documents the path of two sisters whose father, a former wrestler (Aamir Khan), decides to train them for the women’s wrestling team in the hopes of finally winning an international title for India.
A great sports film and an interesting social commentary.
Enjoy all the advantages of a native speaker AND a grammar coach with a Hindi tutor!