Why Am I Learning Hindi?

Why Am I Learning Hindi? March 21, 2014

The YouTube channel Hindi University is working on a project to gather videos from Hindi learners all over the world. The videos have three things: name, where you’re from, and why you want to learn Hindi.

They asked me if I would do a video and of course I said yes, but then I had to figure out the answer to that third question. Why do I want to learn Hindi?

It’s strange how difficult that is to answer.

Clearly if one wants to learn a language to help advance their Hinduism, that language would be Sanskrit.

I have studied Sanskrit, though not extensively. I learned some as a child and I took a semester of it in college. I found it brutally hard. I have no talent for languages and I suffer from a lack of ability to pay attention to detail. This makes translation really difficult because I miss the connections and how the sentence comes together. Sanskrit is a hugely difficult language with a ton of different cases and modes with lots of exceptions. Add to that sandhi where the words are frequently run together (similar to contractions in English).

After nearly failing that college course, I wanted to learn a language that I could actually speak with people. I wanted to learn a living language!

Hindi made a lot of sense.

I could watch Bollywood movies in the original. I could understand bhajans. I could take advantage of the fact that I already knew how to read the alphabet.

I wanted to be able to speak a second language and Hindi is beautiful. I wanted to be able to understand the ladies at the temple when they gossip. I wanted to be able to surprise people with my knowing Hindi. I wanted to be fluent in a second language so my children could grow up with options (and the brain-expanding advantages of bilingualism). I think there’s some element of feeling like if I learn Hindi it shows my dedication to my Hindu lifestyle. That’s stupid, but it’s there. It feels like I’m proving something.

Somehow these silly motivations have carried me through around five years of learning. I’ve been off and on about it (though now with HabitRPG I’m doing at least one Hindi lesson every day).

I’ve gotten various reactions to my study. One Indian girl memorably said “Why?” when I mentioned I was learning Hindi.

I really should learn Sanskrit. But I love Hindi.

So yeah. I don’t entirely know why I’m learning Hindi, but just in case you also want to learn it, I’ve made a page of every resource, blog, program, video, or game I’ve used in my quest to learn Hindi! I hope you find it helpful!

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  • Ragtimelil

    I can relate. I started learning Welsh for no reason at all. I have no one to talk to and it’s not an easy language.

    • Ambaa

      Ooo, Welsh is so pretty. If you visit Wales, could you find people to speak to? Or would they all switch to English?

      Another language I really want to learn is Irish!

      • Ragtimelil

        I think most people speak English now. In fact, it’s a language that is falling into disuse. They are starting to teach it in schools to try to keep it alive. One reason I decided to learn it.

        • Ambaa

          So sad 🙁

  • Bookboss

    I have been trying to learn Hindi on and off for three years. Thanks for posting this info!

    • Ambaa

      I have also been off and on. Life is so busy and I find that my passions cycle so I lose interest for a little bit and then I come back to it. A couple months ago I added Hindi to my habitrpg.com daily to-do list and since then I’ve done at least a little bit every day. I’ve been amazed by how much quicker my progress is. AJAT says it’s like boiling water. You turn the heat on and then turn it off and your water is never going to get to boiling, but if you leave the heat on all the time, your water boils. Somehow doing it every day is causing it to build on itself in a way I didn’t expect so the gains are bigger than just half an hour of practice all separated out would be, if that makes sense!

  • I started learning Hindi because my friends spoke it. And songs. But I’ve mostly dropped it for Bengali, which is much more useful in my life. I started learning Norwegian once just because. Stopped because I had no one to speak it with. I think we learn better when the language is useful to us somehow – when it is necessary, when we wish to communicate better with those we love (isn’t that how children learn?), when there’s knowledge to be attained. Certainly there’s a wealth of books in Hindi about Hindu stories and faith that have yet to be translated into English; same would go for really any other Indian language. At the temples I visited there were many books available in Hindi and Bengali.

    “I really should learn Sanskrit. But I’m learning Hindi.”
    Plenty of Hindus out there who aren’t fluent in Sanskrit. If Sanskrit isn’t helping you in your life and faith at this point then don’t feel guilty. Or learn it later in life when it does matter. Hindi isn’t a substitute, and learning an Indian language (or not) doesn’t make you more (or less) Hindu. Being able to understand bhajans and speak to some of the priests at your local temple in their mother tongue (not all will speak Hindi of course) is indeed a good thing. Is Hindi the language most people at your temple speak?

    The only thing to be careful about is that even though we language learners are eager to share the fact that we know the language, we have a tendency to derail conversations when we just jump in willy-nilly. Either we can’t keep up (there’s only so many times you can ask [shabd] ka matlab kya hai? in a conversation) or the conversation turns to US – how we learned the language, why we learn, etc. Sometimes, especially at early stages, it’s better to listen.

    • Ambaa

      You know, I really *should* switch to Tamil. All the activities I do, all the people I know, they’re all South Indian.

      I’ve invested a lot in Hindi and I love it. And I love the amount I’m able to follow movies and such.

      I haven’t been brave enough yet to speak it, so I guess that saves me from the concern of derailing the conversation!

      I didn’t even mention it when the ladies at bhajan group encouraged me to try leading a bhajan. They suggested that there’s pretty English ones and it helps to know the meaning of them. I could have said, “Actually I understand the Hindi ones.” But I didn’t. :-/ Also, I find the English ones stiff and unnatural.

      Anyway, I think it’s like AJAT.com says: if you’re struggling to choose which language to learn between two, pick the less useful one. Because if it’s competing that hard in your mind with one that is practical to your life, it’s because you have a real passion for it and that will help you stick with it.

      I have found that to be true. I tried to learn Spanish because there was a little girl living in my building who only spoke Spanish. I couldn’t do it. I really have no interest in Spanish and even though it’s supposed to be easy, it is impossible for me!

      I don’t know why I have a passion for Hindi, but it’s kept me going over about six years of language learning now! (I’m inconsistent so I really should know more after six years, but now that I’m working on it every day I’m seeing exponential improvements).

  • Amit

    Im originally from Mauritius and I learned hindi and am fluent whenever I get to use in regularly(else I get rusty till the next time).I didn’t get to use in Mauritius and now that iv been living in Ireland(and despite the fact that Ireland has more people speaking hindi as a 1st language)I still am not able to practice.i suggest u learn Hindi instead of tamil coz trust me with hindi,both Sanskrit and tamil will be easier to understand.i haven’t learned Sanskrit(I tried for a very short while but didn’t follow on)nor tamil but understand a aweful lot of Sanskrit and to a lesser extent tamil!ultimately its what you feel most comfy with of course.