Big Gora Learns Hindi

Big Gora Learns Hindi

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Practice, practice, practice!; or, a new stage of the journey

You probably know the old joke. I used to (rather dickishly, I acknowledge) tell it all the time when I played EverQuest and someone would ask, for example, "How do you get to Faydwer?"
Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice, practice, practice!
I know, terrible. It's also the most obvious learning principle in the world; however, obvious as it is, I--and maybe you too?--need to learn the truth of it over and over.
That's what this summer has been about for me हिंदी सिखने में [hindi sikhne mein/in learning Hindi]: learning for the five-hundredth time the value of "practice, practice, practice." That is, अभ्यास, अभ्यास, अभ्यास.
I want to tell you the details about this for two reasons: so you don't get down on yourself if you don't adhere to a steady, rigid learning regimen; and so you can learn from my imperfections. When I started learning Hindi three years ago, there was a lot of turmoil and angst at my job; studying Hindi was a peaceful escape from all that. I studied religiously, every day for an hour minimum. I learned the alphabet quickly, then spent a lot of time just enjoying drawing the letters. It felt more like an art project at times than like learning a language. I completed the exercises in my book (see the first post for more), memorized the vocabulary, and listened to the podcasts. Everything about the language was brand new, so every tiny thing I learned felt like a big bonus. There's something intoxicating about knowing, "Two months ago I didn't know how to say anything in this language, but now I know ____!" Anything in that blank is cause for celebration. After about six months of that, though, my devotion flagged: I got busy, and/or frustrated by forgetting what I'd just learned, and/or tired. You may know how that goes: steady enthusiasm and total adherence to a regimen are hard to maintain for very long. They're fragile. (See also: jogging.)
I steadily progressed, one way and another, until Christmas 2011. At that point, my wife and I were heading to India for three weeks! I was eager to try out my baby-talk Hindi भारत में [Bharat mein/in India (itself)]. Instead, abruptly, shockingly, we were sent home. We've both traveled many times to Europe, where Americans do not need visas (only passports); we'd checked online, and were mistakenly told that we didn't need a visa for India, either. As all NRIs surely know, though, we did. So, visaless, we were taken out of the line in Newark for the flight to Delhi. We tried to get a visa in New York City, but that didn't work either--so we went home, shocked and angry and depressed. I believe I said--and definitely felt--"F**K INDIA!" After a couple of weeks I recovered enough just to loathe the visa-granting process and all those involved in it, rather than the nation as a whole.
But--that hurt a lot. A lot. I just didn't feel up to studying Hindi for at least half a year after that nightmare. Not a bit. And when I did finally resume studying in summer 2012, I wasn't quite as steady and dedicated as I'd been at first. Who knew if we'd ever make it to India? What would stop us next time? बहनचोद सरकार! [behnchod sarkaar/sisterblanking government!]
Thank God, Bridget and I did finally make it to India for a beautiful three weeks between December 2012 and January 2013. More on that in future posts!
So at the beginning of summer 2013, mathematically speaking, I'd studied Hindi for nearly two years. Realistically speaking, it may be stretching to say I had a full year under my belt. The good news is, this summer my Hindi leveled up rapidly. It's been incredibly satisfying.
Earlier, I had worked quickly, and shakily, through the first 16 chapters of my book. This summer, I went through those 16 chapters again. And again and again and again. I also listed to the podcasts repeatedly until I could remember each chuckle, audible breath, and hesitation from the speakers. I'm now at a point that is equal parts frustrating and exciting. I can legitimately say a lot of things in Hindi that I might say in English, without needing to look anything up. For example:
"मैंने बहुत अच्छा किताब पढ़ रहा हूँ." [Maine bahut acchaa kitaab padh rahaa hoon/I'm reading a really good book.]
"बिल्ली को मक्खन न खाने देना." (<--actually a sentence right from my book) [Billi ko makkhan na khaane dena/Don't let the cat eat the butter.] (We have a butter-obsessed cat, so this does come up in real life.)
"प्रिय, मैं तुमसे प्यार करता हूँ ." [Priya, main tumse pyaar karta hoon/Darling, I love you.]
I can practice much of the time now in my head--put everyday thoughts like these into Hindi.
I was able to translate this page from chapter 14, only looking up two or three words:


The frustrating part comes--frequently enough--when I find I simply don't know enough words. I need to expand my vocabulary.
The next stage of my Hindi-learning journey will involve two big tasks: learning new material, now that I feel pretty solid with what I've learned so far; and learning more words!

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