Hindi is an increasingly relevant language for young Australians. Jacqueline recently travelled to Delhi to study Hindi through a cross-institutional exchange with the Australian National University and Zabaan Language Institute in Delhi.
We were lucky enough to have Jacqueline chat to us about some of her experiences studying Hindi, living in Delhi and how it has complemented her broader study and career aspirations.
Jacqueline, why did you first choose to study Hindi?
I’ve always loved studying languages, but most of my experience has been with European languages. When I started at university, I wanted to set myself a new challenge, and I was lucky to have a great choice of languages and learning resources available. I was tossing up between Hindi and Arabic but I did a Google image search of Hindi’s Devanagari script and fell in love with it. I love to paint and was really attracted to the beauty of the script and wanted to be able to write it for myself.
I also thought that Hindi might be an easier choice – it is meant to be simpler than Persio-Arabic languages for an English-speaker to learn, and it has close ties to some other languages that I already had a basic knowledge of. The language is very similar to spoken Urdu, and shares vocabulary with a number of other common languages.
While learning Hindi has been challenging, as with learning all languages, the language is so beautiful that I am really enjoying the challenge.
Tell us a bit more about the ANU Hindi study course you undertook in Delhi?
The ANU Hindi study course in Delhi is a cross-institutional exchange with Zabaan Language Institute based in south Delhi. It was held for six weeks over the Australian summer and we would study for about ten hours each day, with about six of these hours spent in a classroom.
Zabaan’s course structure was really tailored to our previous learning experiences. There were seven of us on the exchange together, but as we all had different levels of Hindi experience, the school put together personalised programs for each of us. The classes were a mix of private lessons, lessons with one or two others or whole group lessons. There were around six teachers, who would each focus on a different aspect of learning the language. For instance, we might spend one hour focusing on pronunciation and the next hour practicing drills using verbs. Wednesdays were dedicated to Urdu study. One of my favourite classes was when we learnt slang words used by young people living in Delhi!
Zabaan has a unique learning philosophy that I have not come across at other language schools. Native English speakers who have also learnt Hindi teach those who are at a beginning level. At the intermediate level, teachers are native Hindi speakers who have learnt English, and at the advanced level, teachers are native Hindi speakers who cannot speak English. This approach means that the teachers really understand the needs of the students, but can also challenge them.
How has the exchange course at Zabaan helped you with your Hindi studies?
This is easy to answer – incredibly! Anyone who has been involved in an emersion program will tell you that it is the best way to learn a language. We were speaking Hindi twenty-four hours a day; for negotiating transport, ordering food, reading signs, everything!
I found that whilst in Delhi, I was beginning to use Hindi far more naturally than I would in the classroom back home. I was forced to lose my inhibitions. When learning the language in the classroom, it was easy for me to write a few words and repeat phrases until they became familiar. But in Delhi, it was a case of either using the language or being confined by my inability to communicate.
Being in a place where Hindi is continually spoken allowed me to hear the constant rhythm of the language – on the television, in the market, on a bus – and each day I found myself understanding more and more of what was going on around me.
What was it like living and studying in Delhi?
Most of the time, I found that it was a big and exciting adventure. I loved being in a city that was constantly buzzing; we got to experience several festivals and the Republic Day celebrations.
There are definitely things that I miss about my time living and studying in Delhi. Firstly, getting to see the beautiful sights of the ancient city on a daily basis. I remember one night heading into Old Delhi for dinner, and just being amazed by how you can still see the remarkable history of the Mughal Empire on the streets. I also miss getting to meet and live with people who shared my passion for language. The long hours at school were hard but it was really rewarding, especially knowing that I was doing something that I loved.
Despite this, there were some challenges about living in Delhi that you need to be prepared for. Delhi is a huge chaotic and at times overcrowded city. You often feel in sensory overload due to the chaos and sometimes overwhelming pollution. It was also important for me as a female student to be cautious of safety in the city. But having said this, I found the overall experience rewarding!
Have you found that studying Hindi and your experience in India has complemented your other study and career aspirations?
Definitely. I study a degree in Asia-Pacific security, which includes study of the history and culture of the region, as well as specialist training in security studies. I have a particular interest in relations between India and Pakistan.
I feel as though having knowledge of the language allows for a much greater understanding of the complexities of that relationship between the two rival countries. There is a lot more people I can speak to now. I speak one of the most spoken languages in the world and am much closer to understanding the way of life of 1.2 billion people!
What practical tips do you have for others considering this course or other opportunities in India?
I guess my first tip to anyone keen to head to Delhi is to make sure that you have sorted out the basics – accommodation and transport. It’s the kind of place that you don’t want to end up stranded in because it is hard to navigate and there are people looking to scam tourists. Getting charged a higher price at times is almost inevitable, and sometimes it’s easier to just go with it than to put up a fight.
Transport around the city is actually quite good, once you have it figured out – the metro is efficient and fast, and the first coach of every train is reserved for women only.
My next tip, especially for girls, is to cover up as much as possible as it can sometimes reduce unnecessary attention. As a westerner, you will be watched constantly, and asked to have your picture taken with many times – which for me brought equal parts flattery and annoyance!
I would also recommend finding some small comforts that can make living in Delhi a bit easier. For me, Haus Khas Village was a sanctuary where I could study without the interruption. This is a place definitely worth exploring; it can be expensive but beautiful and filled with trendy cafes, galleries and stores.
I guess my last suggestion is to just not take things too seriously, Delhi is stressful and messy, but I found it so much more attractive when I started to see it for the big picture – as one of the most remarkable cities in the world!
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- Jacqueline’s experience – ANU Hindi study course in Delhi - March 14, 2015