Language Learning Update

Language Learning Update March 2, 2015

Amazingly it’s been around seven years since I first started stumbling towards learning Hindi.

For those who are new here is some background: my parents study Sanskrit and so I grew up with some influence of that. I knew the letters of the devanagari alphabet (which both Sanskrit and Hindi use) by the time I was in college. I knew some Vedic prayers. I had a little kid’s learn Sanskrit book from the St. James school (affiliated with SES). The one I had is Stories of Krishna part one. Back then I discovered that language was difficult for me to learn. I took years of Spanish classes in school too but my introversion was crippling and it slowed me down so much that I switched to Latin. That came with its own problem when I discovered that I have a tendency to gloss over details and focus on the big picture of things. That habit of my brain serves me well in a lot of ways but it made getting accurate translations of Latin or Sanskrit nearly impossible.

Still, I loved languages and I wanted to be fluent in multiple languages. In college I loaded up on linguistics classes. I also took American Sign Language classes. That was a break through for me. I loved ASL in a way that made me long for it when I wasn’t using it. I learned quickly and the grammar made sense to me. It all clicked. Maybe that was the immersive classroom. Our teacher used only ASL to teach us. What stopped me before I got fluent in ASL was politics. I’m sorry that I gave up on it, though, and I still long for it. I’d like to go back to working on that language. (And Memrise has a great course for it!)

In college I also tried a Sanskrit class but my advantage of familiarity was over by the second class and the pace was far too fast. Sanskrit is very intensive in its grammar and the goal in the class was to learn all the grammar in one semester. I barely passed.

At that time I was starting to become more and more involved in Indian culture and not just philosophy. I had a number of Hindu friends (as well as a few Sikh friends, but that’s beside the point) and I realized that maybe Hindi would be the perfect language for me to choose to learn. It was a language most likely to help me speak to people.

And so it began. I discovered a love for Hindi and it motivated and continues to motivate me through challenging times.

Over the last seven years there have been times when I wasn’t studying very much at all and there have been others times when I’ve devoted nearly every waking hour to it, from course books to Rosetta Stone to classes to movies without subtitles. Indian friends told me it was an easy language to learn. Just watch lots of movies, they said. (Rosetta Stone, by the way, was the best thing I did. It taught me more than every other resource put together).

But I still struggle. I am not fluent. I can understand a lot of simple sentences but as soon as I try to follow Twitter arguments in Hindi I’m completely lost. I can speak some easy conversational plesantries but I can’t truely express myself in Hindi.

I’ve been practicing writing simple sentences based on Youtube lessons from my friend who runs Hindi University but even then I find that nearly every sentence I write has a problem with it. Usually that I’ve left out or misused connecting words. And then I feel just so overwhelmed by how much is still ahead of me. Once I figure out how to use connecting words correctly then I’ve still got to learn all kinds of idioms and expressions before everyday conversation will make sense to me. At least I am at a point where I can make myself understood usually.

On top of all that, on my last trip to India I realized that Hindi is not very practical to my life. The fact is, I don’t have any connection to North India. Just about everyone I know is from the South, all the activities I do are Southern based, my temple is Southern, my guru is in the South. When I travel to see the guru I don’t get to use my Hindi at all. No one speaks it. It’s all either Tamil or Kannada in that area.

I know that I can practice with real people because when I meet people who don’t speak English I do try out using my Hindi. But I get the same blank looks.

So I realized that if I want to really be able to speak to people and to arrange my own trips to see my guru, it would be very useful to know Tamil and maybe some Kannada too.

And so I have started learning another language without knowing if I’ll really be able to do it. Hoping that I’ll get further than I have with Hindi (not that I’m giving up on Hindi). Luckily I have a friend who is both a school teacher and a native speaker/lover of Tamil. She got me started with the alphabet and some phrases. She’s going to continue to help me along the way and I have several other friends in the area who are native Tamil speakers too.

Sadly, Rosetta Stone does not have a Tamil program (help me out, put in a request here!) and they are by far my favorite way to learn. So I’ve been working on recreating their system on Memrise. It’s pretty slow going, though!

Because of my expanded language learning, the Learn Hindi tab at the top of this post has been changed to Learn Hindi/Tamil/Sanskrit. On that tab you will find all the resources that I’ve gathered for all three of these languages.

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  • Arun

    “அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதிபகவன் முதற்றே உலகு” glad your learning tamil you will love the literature

  • Many thanks for posting this, as I have difficulty learning languages because of my deafness. If anything, you advanced far beyond me in my own second language, ASL. I only know a limited vocabulary with a very basic grammar, and I simply don’t get to use the language very much, never have, really.

    • Ambaa

      That’s too bad! ASL is a gorgeous language and I can never stay away from it for long! 🙂 There’s a group in my area that connects for “silent lunches” and many areas have Deaf events that I’m sure you’d be welcome at!

  • NP

    It is very amazing to know someone from USA to do hardwork and attempt to learn the humanity’s first ever developed language Tamil whereas the successive govts sitting in Delhi is trying to do everything to eradicate Indian languages and only limit themselves to on language Hindi (which is technically not even pure Indian origin).

    With Tamil, spoken Kannada, Malayalam languages also becomes easy.

    You have become really more Indian person than so-called ‘Indian’ politicians in Delhi.

    • Ambaa

      That’s very sweet of you to say! I’ve really been enjoying Tamil so far and I hope that perhaps I can help people understand how important it is to preserve languages and cultures, particularly those with such a long history!

  • In my husbands family, speak a combination of Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. I think Hindi is the easiest but then nobody in the South really speaks it, and a Tamilians won’t be caught dead speaking Hindi LOL!
    I find Telugu to be a beautiful language, whereas Tamil is so difficult to pronounce. Of course my husband only wants to teach our daughter Tamil so I have really had to try to learn it.
    Another thing I’ve heard is that most Kannada speakers know/understand Tamil. So if you’re mainly based in TN, Tamil is the best bet.