We always said we’d study Hindi together someday, when we had time, and when we were living in India. So now we’re finally doing it.
Fortunately for me, Alan started learning Arabic more than 10 years ago, and he still remembers how he got started: learning the alphabet first, before he ever took a class. So I don’t have to make any of this up – all I’ve had to do is use the book we bought in Portland, and borrow some of Alan’s methods for memorization. I freely admit I have also borrowed some of Alan’s discipline and motivation.
To be honest, I really did need to piggyback onto someone else’s energy for the first two weeks, which we spent memorizing the Hindi alphabet – or to be more precise, the Hindi syllabary, or sound system. There are either 11 or 13 vowels, depending on how you want to count them, and 40 consonants. In addition, Hindi has conjunct consonants – for example, “tr” as in “train” – that you have to write as distinct characters; you don’t just put two consonants together as you do in English. There are 150 of these conjunct Hindi characters in our book, and really, you can’t memorize them; you just have to get to the point where you can recognize and write them, bit by bit.
I was pretty daunted by all this, so I just adopted Alan’s methods. We both wrote out the vowels and consonants over and over again, and when I saw Alan making himself little flashcards, I did the same, one grouping of letters at a time. Vowels first, and then the consonants: velar, palatal, retroflex, dental and labial. I played games with myself, shuffling the flashcards to see if I could recognize them out of context. Then I laid the flashcards out by grouping, like when you play solitaire and arrange cards by suit. I also found myself using visual mnemonics, allowing myself to see images in the curves of the letters.
All these methods worked, and we’ve now moved on to Unit One in our book. We’ve spent a lot of time copying out the first dialogue in the book, both to memorize sentence patterns and to get familiar with how the letters are put together into words. Here’s the result:
Next up: reading the dialogue back and forth to each other, to get the sentence patterns into our mouths, and another part of our brains.
I’ve been getting some help from an Indian woman who’s staying here at the same guesthouse where we’re living. She and her husband are about our age, and are very good company. Eventually I got up my courage to ask her for help with pronunciation and with forming the letters. She’s also helped me come up with a few helpful phrases, which I use as often as possible.
I’m not feeling daunted anymore, thank goodness. Getting past the initial memorization of all those letters really boosted my confidence, and I love making the words and learning how to pronounce them properly. I look forward to someday being able to speak Hindi comfortably – however many years that takes 😉