‘A Fulbright Scholarship Changed My Life’

An exchange program took Shilpa Parnami to a career in Hindi teaching.

By Giriraj Agarwal

September 2023

‘A Fulbright Scholarship Changed My Life’

Shilpa Parnami (standing, left) at a Bollywood dance night at Boston University. (Photograph courtesy Shilpa Parnami)

Shilpa Parnami coordinates the Hindi-Urdu program and is a senior lecturer in Hindi at Boston University. The courses typically include a diverse mix of students with different levels of Hindi proficiency and Parnami tries to individualize the learning experience for each student in the program. “It’s always fun to remain connected to our language and culture,” she says. “It gives me pleasure to teach Hindi to students and connect them to Hindi-speaking India.” 

Excerpts from an interview with SPAN.   

What inspired you to become a Hindi teacher? 

It happened by chance. I had done an M.A. in English literature from Delhi University. I applied for a Fulbright scholarship, which took me to the United States for a nine-month teaching assistantship in 2007. Earlier, I did not plan to enter the education field but this experience changed my life. I started enjoying teaching Hindi.  

How has been your journey of teaching Hindi at Boston University? 

I joined Boston University in 2016. The journey has been excellent! There are two courses, intermediate and advanced. In the United States, students at the undergraduate level have to learn a foreign language and many Indian heritage students opt for Hindi. Other students who want to experiment with something new and want to broaden their horizon also opt for Hindi learning. There are about 70 students enrolled for the course starting this month. 

How do you choose students for Hindi programs? 

Anyone who wants to join the Hindi program can do so. We do not turn away any student. The interest in Hindi learning has been increasing. Indian American parents want their children, who have grown up in the United States, to connect with Indian culture and they want them to learn Indian languages. 

What inspires American students to learn Hindi? 

There are several inspirations. Some learn Hindi to have a meaningful experience in India while visiting for some medical research or for work on social justice, etc. The availability of scholarships like the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) and the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) have also created more interest, as students do not have to pay any fees or travel costs. Bollywood movies are another attraction. Many students are already aware about popular Hindi movies and they want to know more. 

What kind of changes have taken place in Hindi studies in the United States? 

There have been many changes in the Hindi curriculum compared to 15 years ago, when I completed my Ph.D. in linguistics from The University of Texas at Austin and used to teach Hindi there. Now, there is less focus on grammar and more on Hindi speaking skills and opportunities to interact in Hindi. 

In the past 10 years, there has been a trend of teaching Hindi-Urdu in combination. This has created more interest. 

There is also a community initiative for teaching Hindi by a start-up, which has created a network of Hindi teachers to teach Hindi even to teenagers. 

Tell us about the challenges you have faced. 

Many times, Indian heritage students think that they would not have to work hard to learn Hindi as they had exposure to the language which becomes a challenge for teachers. 

Click here to sign up for the free SPAN newsletter: https://bit.ly/SubscribeSPAN


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *