The Hindi program at the American Institute of Indian Studies helps American students develop proficiency in the four skills of language use: speaking, listening, reading and writing.
AIIS hosts Hindi students of the Critical Language Scholarship Program in Jaipur, where, in addition to classroom learning they explore the area, gain in-depth knowledge and meet local people from different backgrounds. (Photograph courtesy https://clscholarship.org/)
The Hindi language program at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) has trained more than 3,000 American students over the last six decades in cultural, linguistic and social settings in India. It enabled American scholars to conduct field work. The Hindi program offers courses at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels through academic year, fall semester, spring semester and summer programs. It accommodates Fulbright-Nehru, Boren, Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellows and many other scholars. The Hindi program also develops special programs for various government institutes and universities.
SPAN spoke to Purnima Mehta, director general of AIIS, about Hindi learning opportunities at AIIS for American students. Excerpts from the interview.
What kind of interest do American students show for the Hindi courses?
There are several reasons why American students choose to study Hindi.
Academic interest: Several American universities have strong South Asian Studies departments. For example, the University of Chicago, University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, Columbia University, Princeton University, Harvard University, New York University and Yale University. They also offer courses in many South Asian languages. Hindi is the most-commonly-offered South Asian language on U.S. campuses.
The interests of American students vary. The most common are to gain greater proficiency as a Hindi learner, to access Hindi literature with their improved abilities, and to understand the prevalent traditions and culture of the Hindi heartland.
Special interest: U.S.-India bilateral cooperation is broad-based, covering trade and investment, defense and security, education, science and technology, space technology and applications, clean energy, environment, agriculture and health. It has created new job opportunities, and this has helped increase interest in learning Hindi and other South Asian languages. The Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies at University of Pennsylvania offers advanced courses in business Hindi. Many other universities and institutions offer courses for special purposes like health, clean energy and environment.
Personal interest: There are many graduate and undergraduate American students who learn Hindi and other South Asian languages for a variety of personal reasons. Some want to communicate with their parents and grandparents. Many want a greater understanding of their favorite Bollywood songs and films.
How are students selected for the Hindi program?
AIIS has a language committee of four members who teach in the United States. This committee makes the final selections out of the applicant pool for each of the programs based on some broad points.
In addition to transcripts and letters of recommendation from faculty who know them well, students also submit a statement of purpose with their language program application. In that essay, they describe their research plans—if they are graduate students—for which they need a high level of Hindi proficiency. Undergraduates will usually have less clearly formulated long-range plans but can still describe their academic goals.
We are looking for academic and intellectual need for the language. A student whose only goal is to be able to speak with their grandmother will not likely be selected, but a student who wants to research ways the lives of women have changed over the past few generations by speaking with their grandmother and her friends, has a good chance of acceptance.
We take students’ academic record to date, reflected in their transcripts, as evidence of ability to succeed intellectually in our program. Their faculty letters can tell us something about how the student gets along with others, an important consideration for students studying abroad in often very different circumstances than they are used to at home.
Tell us about the course content of the Hindi language program.
Our courses are designed for students to achieve proficiency in all four skills of language use: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The program focuses on developing academic and professional skills, enabling students to communicate with Hindi speakers in a variety of real-life contexts.
Students are expected to expand their vocabulary, enhance their grammatical accuracy, and develop their cultural appropriateness through participation in classroom activities and by immersion in the Hindi-speaking community.
The objectives of our courses are to strengthen students’ survival skills and help them to become creative in their language expression. Our courses also help students understand and narrate stories, news items and events. Writing in the target language is emphasized from the beginning of the course. Classes are conducted in Hindi and students are expected to stretch their capabilities in speaking and understanding Hindi both inside and outside the classroom.
Tell us about the methodology AIIS adopts for Hindi instruction.
Like other language programs of AIIS, the Hindi language program focuses on learner-centered teaching methods. Students take part in selecting the teaching materials and they review the effectiveness of teaching materials in the weekly meeting together.
We encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. They discuss and brainstorm during class using interpersonal, interpretive and presentational modes of communication. We have personalized learning classes to address their individual needs.
Their engagement with the language program and the community inspires them to improve their proficiency in Hindi to a higher level so they can read and discuss more abstract topics. Some of these topics include global warming, effects of climate change and pollution in our daily life, food security, public health and sustainable development. There are many returning students in the Hindi program because they think that it is the best means to advance their proficiency in the language.
How do you provide field exposure to students?
Weekly field trips are integral to the Hindi language program. Jaipur and the neighboring areas have rich cultural, social, historical and artistic traditions. Our field trips to these sites provide an opportunity for our students to practice the Hindi that they have been learning in their classes.
We provide our students with necessary materials, such as new vocabulary or background context, before the field trip. This provides a stretching experience outside of a controlled environment. Students write a report in their weekly journal and discuss their experience the next week while in class.
Has technology changed the program in any way over the years?
In 2020, the AIIS decided to create a Language Resource Center (LRC) to house the vast materials created by our various language programs, including Hindi, and to develop a virtual hub for digitized teaching materials that are aligned to its own unique teaching methodologies.
The LRC also provides a forum for language teachers to share their best practices. It will also serve as a pedagogical platform to share innovative teaching practices.
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