Big Gora Learns Hindi

Big Gora Learns Hindi

Monday, July 29, 2013

The pain of disco, the joy of Hindi

One of the सब से अच्छी चीज़े दुनिये में [sab se acchi chize duniye mein/best things in the world] is Bollywood films! And Om Shanti Om is among the best! Bollywood was a major factor in my wanting to learn Hindi. "Dard-e-disco" reverses the typical gender setup, giving us an "item boy" rather than an item girl. Shah Rukh Khan plays it up hilariously. The context is amusing, too: the number is supposed to be a dream sequence in a terrible-sounding "serious" movie with SRK's character blind, armless, and confined to a wheelchair.
This was one of the first Hindi film songs I discovered I enjoyed more because I was beginning to understand the language a little. As you may know, there are a few commonly used rhymes with "disco" in Hindi, particularly इसको [isko/oblique form of यह + the ever-present को]. So several times in the song you can see the writers straining humorously to create these rhymes, specifiying that the heartbreak happened "on the 26th (of last month)"--"छब्बीस को" [chabbis ko]--and throwing in the city name "San Francisco."
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Shah Rukh Khan in "दर्द-ए-डिस्को"!

Dard-E-Disco (English Subtitles) - Om Shanti Om - HD

Saturday, July 27, 2013

On being an amateur

I am an amateur. "Amateur" derives from the Latin word amare, to love, its past participle amatum, and the noun amator, one who loves. I love India, and her culture and languages; I work to learn Hindi out of love, not for money, success, or status. It's a great thing to be an amateur. There are no bad consequences for, say, taking a long time to learn, or forgetting words you want to remember. You shrug happily and try again, because you love it.
I found that I took a lot of pleasure, early on, in simply practicing drawing the letters. I found a bunch of short words and just practiced. Clearly, Arthur the Cat was a big inspiration too.
One of the great things about learning Hindi is amateur status. If you learn Spanish, or French, people will in pretty short order expect you to have a certain proficiency. But any Hindi you learn as an अंग्रेजी [Angrezi/Brit or American] is a bonus! Just saying "फ़िर मिलेंगे!" [phir milenge/see you later] is an accomplishment you can be proud of!

My blog and welcome to it

I started teaching myself Hindi three years ago. I'd fallen deeply in love with India and her rich, vast culture. Learning Hindi for myself seemed like the next logical step, because that Desi love clearly wasn't going to fade. I teach myself because that's really my only option. Local universities don't offer Hindi classes. So यह यात्रा [ye yaatra/this journey] began.
Now, one of my primary goals with this blog is to demystify learning Hindi (and learning generally). So if you'll indulge me, I'll explain at the occasional risk of overexplaining.
How'd I type those Hindi words? Simple. Right here on the "create post" page of Blogspot, at the right end of the editing toolbar, is the Hindi letter pronounced "uh," which looks like a "31" with a line over it. Toggle the Devanagari writing system--that is, Hindi--on and off by simply pressing that button. Some genius (unironic) figured out how to link that writing system to the Roman letters on the keyboard. Even things like the third letter in "yaatra" there, the "tr" jammed together, are managed automatically. Cool! So as this blog proceeds, I'll toss in Hindi words यहाँ और वहां [yahaan aur vahaan/here and there], along with their transliteration (Roman lettering) and translation into English.
The very first step is to get a good book. This one has worked very, very well for me, and I highly recommend it:
Teach Yourself Hindi by Rupert Snell
One great advantage of Snell's system is that it integrates neatly with a series of free podcasts paired with the book's chapters. You can find the free podcasts here, and download them to your computer, phone, and iPod:
Stupidly, it only recently occurred to me to listen to the podcasts many times each. Everything becomes easier with repetition.

The second step is to use Snell's book, or another like it, to make yourself a set of 3" X 5" flashcards, the Hindi letter on the front and its identification/pronunciation on the back. Hindi has nearly twice as many letters as the Roman alphabet. (See picture just above ^.)
Why? Because Hindi vowels each have their own letter. (In English we talk of a "short a" and "long a," using one letter for two [or more!] different sounds.) Also, because Hindi speakers hear and use distinctions between sounds that we collapse. Whereas English has only the humble t, Hindi distinguishes between त (dental), थ (dental + a puff of air), ट (retroflex), and ठ (retroflex + a puff of air). (Don't worry, any book will help you make this distinction, and in time you'll hear it yourself.) I'd show you a picture of mine, but I gave them away! Work through the flashcards a few times every day until you have the alphabet pretty well down. Shuffle. Repeat. It took me about ten days to feel confident with it. At that point you'll be able to tell the difference immediately between, e.g., द and ढ; य, थ, and भ; म and स.
Important reminder: it's not as hard as it might look. Seriously. The sheer, effortless repetition with the flashcards will overcome all difficulties. It will. 8)
So, back now to the big picture, and a comment on the blog's title. English is unquestionably the prestige language in India. It's the official language of the Indian government, the language of its laws and constitution, and the language of its elite education. All the best schools and universities are "English medium." Now, Hindi has noble roots, no question: it uses the same writing system as Sanskrit, and takes its vocabulary mostly from Sanskrit and Arabic with just a sprinkling of English words (e.g., स्टेशन [steshan/station). Bollywood films and music use Hindi. Yet Hindi has much lower prestige. Plus, as we know to be sadly true, most Americans expect people from other countries to learn our language, rather than vice-versa. Thus, it's a bit unusual for an American gora (white guy), to labor to learn Hindi; the cultural exchange tends to run the other way. Plus my giant size really makes me stand out. So, I'm a big gora learning Hindi--and proud of it! Join me, won't you?