Learning Hindi gave Karan Mudgal, an Indian American, a greater level of confidence in navigating throughout India.
Karan Mudgal interacts with other Hindi students at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur. (Photograph courtesy Karan Mudgal)
Seven years ago, my wife received a Fulbright-Nehru fellowship to research mental health/addictions at a nongovernmental organization in India. As part of the fellowship, she was given the opportunity to study Hindi for three months in Jaipur. She had already studied the language in college so this was a chance for her to continue practicing it. Since I moved to Jaipur with her, I decided to enroll in the school as well so I could learn the language.
The Hindi course was at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur. The teaching staff there is truly amazing, and we covered so much in three months. Their patience and ability to connect with the students cannot be overstated. It was fairly easy for me as I came from a household where Konkani and Marathi were spoken, and Hindi language media was consumed. Additionally, I had spent many summer vacations visiting family in Mumbai and had been exposed to a good amount of Hindi throughout my life.
There isn’t any better feeling than going out to order food from a street vendor, ordering in Hindi, and not having them question your order. It feels good to be able to blend in, especially when as a child I stuck out so clearly with my American accent. In a similar vein, being able to give directions to the rickshawala is quite satisfying.
Learning Hindi was important for me because it gave me a greater level of confidence in navigating throughout India. I had already traveled around India a good deal over many years but doing so with a greater ability to read signs and talk to locals in more rural Hindi-speaking areas, for instance, has changed my perspective and helped me feel more connected.
To American students who have no connection to India, I highly encourage them to learn the language. Hindi is beautiful and the songs and movies alone that it allows you to understand are well worth it.
Unfortunately, there are not that many places that teach Hindi, perhaps because most Indians that Americans would interact with speak English fluently. In that way, I was lucky that Boston University offered such a great series of classes in Hindi (and Urdu) so that I could keep up with my practice.
I try to visit India every three years or so. My wife and I were very happy to be able to bring our daughter to India in January of this year so she could meet her great-grandmother!
If you have any interest in the subcontinent, Hindi is a great starting place. The language is quite easy to pick up (though of course, I had a leg up), but it is simple to read and write and can open the door to a deeper understanding of parts of the country.
I had a lot of fun listening to podcasts and other popular media in order to gain better proficiency in more colloquial ways of speaking. Currently, I’ve found the best way to practice is by reading books to my daughter in Hindi and watching Hindi cartoons with her. Additionally, we listen to Hindi music and watch Hindi movies at home from time to time. Thankfully, having access to Hindi classes at Boston University has been a great way to practice my speaking skills.
Karan Mudgal is an engineering student at Boston University.
Click here to sign up for the free SPAN newsletter: https://bit.ly/SubscribeSPAN