A Uniquely Rewarding Experience

A desire for better communication with Hindi speakers motivated Sophia England and Vishal Ramola to learn the language for four semesters at Boston University.

By Sophia England and Vishal Ramola

A Uniquely Rewarding Experience

Boston University (above) helps students acquire analytical and writing skills in more than a dozen languages, including Hindi and Urdu, through its Department of World Languages & Literatures. (Photograph by eskystudio © Shutterstock.com)

(Photograph by eskystudio © Shutterstock.com)

Boston University’s Department of World Languages and Literatures offers communication-based instruction in multiple languages including Hindi and Urdu. Scholars in the department are engaged in teaching and research about literature, film and media culture in more than a dozen languages.

Read first-person accounts by two alumni of the Hindi language program at the university.

Sophia England

Sophia England (second from right) with other students of the Hindi language program at Boston University. (Photograph courtesy Sophia England)

Sophia England (second from right) with other students of the Hindi language program at Boston University. (Photograph courtesy Sophia England)

As a college student who embarked on a journey to learn Hindi from 2020 to 2023, my experience has been nothing short of transformative. My decision to enroll in a Hindi program was deeply rooted in a desire to connect with my cultural heritage and an eagerness to explore a language spoken by millions around the world.

The initial steps in learning Hindi were both exciting and challenging. I found myself immersed in the world of the Devanagari script, where every curve and line conveyed a meaning that was entirely new to me. Grammatical intricacies, too, presented its own set of hurdles. But it was precisely these challenges that fueled my determination. I quickly learned that in language learning, as in life, persistence is key.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I can offer to future Hindi students is to fully immerse themselves in the language and culture. Beyond the classroom, I sought out family members as language partners to practice speaking. I supplemented my formal coursework with language learning apps, online resources, and captivating Hindi literature and cinema.

The teaching methodology employed by my instructor was a pivotal factor in my Hindi language journey. Interactive classes, cultural activities, community-building exercises and language labs helped me not only grasp the language but also appreciate the broader context of Indian culture. The guidance of an experienced instructor provided me with valuable insights and support, making the learning process enjoyable and enriching.

Furthermore, the opportunity to practice the language was instrumental in my progress. Engaging with Hindi-speaking communities, participating in cultural events and exploring online language exchange platforms allowed me to apply what I had learned in real-life situations. This not only honed my language skills but also deepened my understanding of the cultural nuances that accompany the Hindi language.

In retrospect, my journey to learn Hindi has been a rewarding one. It has opened doors to a world of experiences, from connecting with my cultural roots to forging new friendships. My goal was to feel more closely connected with my roots, and learning this language has enriched my life in countless ways. It has given me the ability to explore, appreciate and contribute to a global community that values the richness of linguistic and cultural diversity.

Vishal Ramola

Vishal Ramola (front row, left) with students of the Hindi language program at Boston University. (Photograph courtesy Vishal Ramola)

Vishal Ramola (front row, left) with students of the Hindi language program at Boston University. (Photograph courtesy Vishal Ramola)

I participated in the Hindi program led by Shilpa Parnami, senior lecturer of the Hindi language program, from 2019 to 2021. My family is my first inspiration for learning Hindi. I have so many memories of visiting them in India, trips on which I spent time with my loved ones and got to enjoy some of the amazing culture and history of the country. I’ve always wanted to be able to better communicate with people I meet there and with members of my family who I can’t speak to in English, and it is this that motivates me to study Hindi.

Learning Hindi was a uniquely rewarding experience. When learning a language, nothing is superfluous. The most basic vocabulary and grammatical structures I learned at the beginning of my first semester remained just as relevant at the end of my second year of studies. This is valuable because it required me to constantly practice and take an active role in my learning by maintaining my skills over a long period of time.

One of the main challenges when learning Hindi is that it’s present in such a variety of different contexts and media. I would often begin to feel confident speaking about a certain topic in class, but when I tried to speak to my family or when I listened to people on TV talking about the same things, it would be difficult to understand.

I would recommend to future students that they try and engage with as much Hindi as they can outside of class. How you practice outside of class is an important complement to what you study in class. Talking to different people and consuming different media will expose you to different ways of speaking, which is essential for becoming more comfortable with using Hindi in different situations.

My teacher, Dr. Parnami, taught by using frequent conversations in class. This was particularly helpful because, as I learned new words and grammar, it helped me practice truly thinking in Hindi and not just mechanically translating Hindi to English in my head or blindly applying grammar rules. Applying what we learned in conversation was also valuable because it encouraged me to practice speaking even when I wasn’t entirely comfortable with new topics, which was useful preparation for using Hindi outside the classroom.

Sophia England and Vishal Ramola are alumni of the Hindi language program at Boston University.

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