January 1, 2014

How To Learn Hindi

Recently, I’ve met several non-natives who speak English very well. I asked them how they learned English so well, and, interestingly, every one of them had the same response:

“I watched a lot of television and movies”.

Their consistent testimony suggests that input is the key to language learning. This is no secret; many people regard input as the most fundamental aspect of language acquisition.

This website has a wealth of information that is very useful to Hindi learners, but you won’t learn Hindi just by studying Hindi; you need a lot of input and a lot of practice. This website is a great tool, but you need more to understand Hindi well.

Input

“Input” simply refers to the activity of reading Hindi and listening to Hindi. You need a LOT of input if you want to learn Hindi well. This is the most important aspect of learning Hindi; to learn Hindi well, you need a TON of input. It is not possible to say how much a person needs, but if you really want to learn Hindi well, then it will probably take several years worth of consistent daily input.

Reading

For reading, I suggest news websites like BBC Hindi. BBC Hindi has a good mixture of writing styles and content. There are other online Hindi news sites, such as Aaj Tak and Jagran, but they contain a lot of tabloid journalism and annoying advertisements. For the purpose of language learning, though, it doesn’t matter, as long as you can find some interesting content. You can also read blogs for less formal, more colloquial Hindi. It’s a good idea to vary the content so that your input isn’t too biased. I try to read at least 10 news articles every day, but there’s no reason to set an arbitrary goal like “10 per day”; try to enjoy the process of getting input. You won’t get “burned out”, and you’ll, well, enjoy it! I read articles that seem interesting, such as science and technology articles, foreign affairs, entertainment news, blogs, etc. I also like to read printed material too. I read Hindi short stories, books, and other material.

When reading, sometimes I am intentional, and sometimes I am not. I just do whatever I feel like doing. If I want to stop and look up a word in a dictionary, I do; otherwise, I ignore it. If I want to re-read a sentence, I do; otherwise, I just keep going. If I want to analyze the grammar, I do; but, often, I just try to read continuously and enjoy the content. Developing the skill to notice things in context is very useful for a language learner.

In my experience, I’ve learned a lot of words, grammar, and idioms just by reading. In the beginning, reading was laborious, but over time my speed has improved greatly. Don’t get discouraged, just keep reading!

Listening

Fortunately, the Hindi film and television industry is prolific, so there’s no shortage of material! There are many movies and television series available in Hindi. I usually try to watch at least one hour of Hindi television each day. It’s a good excuse to watch T.V.! I prefer T.V. to movies generally, since the show becomes familiar and this familiarity makes it easier to learn. Repeating the same content can be beneficial; watching the same T.V. show or movie multiple times is fine, as long as you don’t get bored and as long as you are still learning. You can watch television shows on YouTube. Some Indian television networks have official YouTube channels, such as Star Classics, SAB TV, or Zee TV.

You’ll learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary just by listening and reading. You’ll eventually notice that you know new grammatical constructions and new vocabulary, and you might not even remember how you learned it!

Getting Started

But, how does an absolute beginner get started? It is very important that the input that you receive is comprehensible. If you understand little or nothing of the input, then you probably will not benefit from it. I studied grammar and vocabulary first, then I began to get a lot of input. In other words, I started with a little understanding from studying, the input increased my understanding, then I could understand more of the input, which increased my understanding even more, then I could understand more input… this process continues, and understanding gradually accelerates. It’s a “snowball” effect.

Transcripts can be useful for a beginner or intermediate learner too. I’ve created a few transcripts on this site. The learner can read the transcript while listening to the audio recording. Creating transcripts is good practice for more advanced learners, but it is a very tedious process.

Output

“Output” refers to speaking and writing Hindi. You will need a lot of input before you can produce any output. You can begin speaking whenever you feel the desire to speak.

It is important to practice with a native speaker. Practicing with non-native speakers can be harmful, since they can’t properly validate your output, and you might acquire some bad habits.

You can begin by writing. Chat programs are a good way to practice initially. You have more time to compose sentences, and you can be certain about what the other person is saying since you have a transcript right in front of you! I often “chat” on IM programs with family members and friends in Hindi.

Speaking will be very difficult for most people. It will be awkward, frustrating, and embarrassing. You will struggle. You simply have to persevere. Eventually, you will learn to speak if you practice enough. Most natives will be very kind and encouraging toward your efforts; however, they will probably overwhelm you in conversation, and they will often be impatient, supplying translations rather than waiting for your response, etc. It is a common experience for an American to hear a foreigner speaking English, but it is a very rare experience for an Indian to hear a foreigner speaking Hindi. As a result, you will become a spectacle. This can be quite embarrassing, but, it is only because they are so fascinated. Don’t get discouraged; keep going! Eventually, you will have to endure the struggle of beginning to speak, but you don’t have to do anything until you are ready.

Vocabulary

Many people like SRS systems like Anki for vocabulary. I also think they are a good way to create a catalog of words and to review them. I personally don’t like to use them, however. I prefer to acquire vocabulary naturally. Learning vocabulary and grammar naturally is better than staring at flash cards. You will learn how to use words in context rather than just a gloss for the word. Knowing a translation for a word doesn’t tell you how to use it, although cleverly designed flashcards could overcome some of these limitations. The experience is much more vivid with multimedia too, which makes it easier to remember.

Summary

So, in summary, if you want to learn Hindi really well, get copious amounts of input by reading, watching T.V., listening to podcasts, etc., and when you are ready, practice speaking a lot with native speakers.

Really, there is no single “right” way to learn Hindi. If something works for you, then keep doing it. However, certain general principles apply to everyone; everyone will need lots of exposure (input) to the language in order to learn it properly.

My Mistakes

I’ve made a few mistakes in language learning:

First, I simply assumed that learning a foreign language well as an adult is not a practical goal. I now am convinced that this is false. As a result of this attitude, I didn’t make a serious effort to learn. I am fascinated by language, so I studied Hindi, but study doesn’t always result in ability.

Second, I studied too much. I came from a background where I studied grammar intensely. I studied classical/koine Greek, which is taught grammatically, since the goal is to read texts and analyze them. Thus, when I started to learn Hindi, I applied the same techniques of intense grammar analysis. Of course, language is a skill; I don’t regret learning grammar; I have an analytical mind, and I enjoy analyzing grammar. However, skill is only acquired through practice and experience.

Lastly, I didn’t get enough input. It was frustrating in the beginning since I understood very little. This was discouraging, so I didn’t listen to enough Hindi. I didn’t understand the importance of input. But, despite all of this, I did listen to a fair amount of Hindi, and eventually I understood more and more. It took me a while to realize how effective input is. Now I realize how helpful input has been, and I intend to get a lot more of it! I want the majority of my effort to be based on input.

So, my learning experience has been inefficient, but, now that I understand my mistakes, I will correct them.

I’m proud of what I’ve learned so far, but I am not satisfied. I am able to understand spoken Hindi well enough to transcribe entire podcasts and T.V. episodes word for word, but I still struggle to understand spoken Hindi sometimes. I can write Hindi well in blog posts, etc. I can speak Hindi, but I am diffident, which will only improve with practice.

I still have a lot to learn. Learning a language isn’t a goal, per se, but a process.

My personal goal for the upcoming year is to get a lot of input and to practice speaking with my wife very consistently. I’m confident that, if I am diligent, I can dramatically improve my ability over the next year.

I hope this will help you to learn Hindi. If you’d like, share your experience with learning Hindi.

  • Matthew Chang

    Does anyone know how to obtain subtitles to movies/TV shows in Hindi? It seems like Hindi subtitles are virtually absent from cyberspace, and you can only find English subtitles to Hindi.

  • Ashish negi

    Hindi Language is not that much tough to learn. If leaner make his mide so he can easily learn HIndi. Well, reading Hindi newspaer is also a very good way to learn hindi language. Learner can easily find hindi newspaper on internet. Example – http://www.patrika.com/

    • You’re right that determination is necessary, but learning a new language is not easy. Otherwise, why would determination be necessary? The website that you shared is an example of tabloid journalism. Many Hindi news websites are tabloids, which is why I recommended BBC Hindi.

  • Anthony Smith

    I’m learning Hindi with tutors on https://preply.com/en/skype/hindi-tutors. It’s a good source and I started to practice speaking. But even now I’m looking for new opportunities to try something new in language learning.

    If you know some great ways you tried yourself, let me know, please.I’ll be glad.