Saminder is learning Hindi. He is 26 and studies in Cardiff.
Why did you decide to learn Hindi?
My family are originally from the Punjab, in the north-west of India. I learned Punjabi when I was a teenager to communicate which my grandparents – although they speak English I wanted to be a bit closer to that culture. I went travelling in India two years ago, and while I was able to talk to people in the Punjab, when I moved on to other parts of the country I felt completely lost. I felt like a foreigner in the country from which my family had come. Another reason is because I’ve really got into Bollywood cinema; I love watching the films and listening to the music. I listen to the BBC Asian Network and they use slang and colloquialisms that are used in Hindi. So that’s why I think I’d have a richer experience by learning the language for myself.
What are you using to learn Hindi?
I’ve been using audio courses – the most useful one I’ve found is published by Pimsleur. It repeats material from previous lessons so you don’t just learn things once, and it puts you into a situation that could be real-life. Each lesson is only half an hour long so it fits perfectly into my commute to university. I used to do the same half an hour on the way home as well, as a kind of challenge to myself to see how much I can remember for the morning. It’s easy to cram stuff in your head and become an expert, but you tend to forget it once you go away and do something else.
I’ve also been speaking to my grandparents who speak Hindi as well. That’s been a hindrance as well as a help. It’s been helpful because of course it’s great to speak to someone who speaks the language fluently, but sometimes they over-correct me. Sometimes as someone who’s starting out you want more encouragement than to be corrected on your accent or pronunciation. I’ve also been using Bollywood films. I use subtitles, but I know some of them so well now that I can watch them without having to put the subtitles on.
What do you find difficult about Hindi, if anything? Is it similar to Punjabi?
There are a lot of similarities with subtle differences. For example, if you are showing respect to someone in Punjabi you say ‘ji’ at the end of their name, and to say ‘yes’ to something in Punjabi you say ‘hanji’. In Hindi you say ‘jihan’. Quite often when I was in India and I was talking to people they could recognise that I came from a Punjabi background and they would say ‘Punjabi?’ and ‘kee haal eh?’ which means ‘how are you?’ in Punjabi. I found that was quite a good conversation starter where I could use their broken Punjabi to get into a conversation. The similarity between the languages has been really helpful because my method has been to immerse myself. So I understand enough automatically and can learn or make up the rest myself.
Where do you hope to end up with Hindi?
I hope to get to the stage where I can converse fluently who speaks Hindi natively. I would love to get to the stage where I can have a conversation with anyone from India, because although there are small regions where it is not spoken, it’s pretty much a universal language in the country. I want to get to the stage where I can feel that I am as Indian as I am British, and that I have really connected with my heritage. So when I can have a conversation with someone in Hindi and they don’t point out my flaws and don’t notice that I am a British person who has learned the language, I will have achieved that goal. That’s a long way off, but I see it as a good challenge!
Hindi might be an unusual language to learn for someone with no connection to India. What would you say to someone like that but who is interested in the language?
One thing I would say is, watch any romantic film in Hindi, and you will find that the flow of the language is really beautiful. You can express feelings in such a wonderful way in Hindi. You don’t necessarily have to learn all the features of the language – you can speak it in quite a blunt way and still sound quite eloquent. The other thing about the language is that it’s a very simple language to learn – it’s very phonetic, you don’t have exceptions like in English, and once you’ve mastered the basic rules you can progress very quickly. And you can apply what you learn from Hindi to other languages in South Asia, like Urdu, Bengali, and Punjabi. These languages are all very similar, and were I to have no link to India I would start with Hindi because it gives you almost an adapter to get into the other languages.
Do you have some favourite words or a favourite phrase in Hindi?
One word that comes up quite a lot because of the films I’ve been watching is ‘dil’ which means ‘heart’ as well as ‘pyaar’ which means ‘love’. ‘Sher’ means ‘lion’, which I find interesting because in Punjabi every male child has ‘singh’ as their middle name, which also means ‘lion’. And so to have these two words conflicting which mean the same thing but one is my own middle name, I find things like that really difficult to learn. In fact it was only recently when I was watching The Jungle Book that I realised that Sher Khan – they use ‘sher’ for ‘tiger’ as well – means ‘king tiger’, which I found really interesting. I’m still on the basic words at the moment but those are some of my favourites.
You can follow Saminder on Twitter – @SaminderMangat