I think that there’s a common perception about language learning that goes something like this: Since I’m in the country where this language is spoken, it MUST be a million times easier and faster to learn the new language.. While I will not totally refute this idea, I must clarify it and say that in my experience, learning a new language is never easy. However, I am starting to believe that it may be possible.
With that said, I was fortunate enough to take an online, one and a half month long, intensive Hindi course prior to coming to Pune. As a result, I was able to sound out words (great for reading street signs) and write sentences at about the same pace of a kindergarten student (better than nothing!) I could also form basic sentences, ask for things and say a wide variety of things about myself. So by no means was I fluent or even conversational but I was definitely lucky to have a jumpstart on the language. (Side note to any prospective study abroad people reading this: The course was through the University of Pennsylvania and was super interesting, fun and helpful! I highly suggest you look into it prior to coming to India.) As a result, I hoped that I would at least be able to get by when making my way through Pune. While I definitely had the knowledge to do just that, speaking your non-native language in its country of origin for the first time is beyond intimidating. I am convinced that my knowledge of begienner Hindi has been solidified simply because I think about what I’m going to say for approximately 30 minutes prior to actually saying anything. By no means was this thought process done purposely either. It was just so incredibly frightening to not speak English outside of a classroom setting and therefore much more difficult than I expected learn colloquial Hindi.
I think that there’s a common perception about language learning that goes something like this: Since I’m in the country where this language is spoken, it MUST be a million times easier and faster to learn the new language..
Luckily, as started my intermediate Hindi class as the only student, I started to gain confidence in speaking and forming sentences. I forced myself to start writing down any word that my professor says that I do not know in an effort to memorize it. Simply learning a whole new set of vocabulary has been so helpful as I have found myself struggling less to pick out a word for a given circumstance or interaction. In addition, my professor has really emphasized reading and writing practice during our daily sessions. For the first few weeks, I was beginning to feel frustrated as I realized that learning a new language, regardless of where you are is an extremely difficult and time consuming process. However, as I noticed myself spending less time sounding out a single sign or writing out my homework, I became more encouraged about my progress. Contrary to my initial belief, Hindi does not just seep out of India and magically make its way into my brain. It’s a process, just as it would be in the United States. Embracing this process and consciously appreciating my progress has done wonders to my sense of optimism when it comes to learning Hindi. However, as a white American, progress can also be made difficult by the assumption that I am clueless about Hindi. Often times it’s a struggle to get people to even attempt to speak Hindi to me. If I go to a snack shop and ask for something, instead of replying people will just point or use hand motions. While this reaction is definitely necessary and helpful for me to understand their response, sometimes I find the assumption that I have no interest in speaking anything other than English frustrating. I mean come on, years and years of Americans demanding that English is universally understood and studied is really weighing me down people!
Despite the rollercoaster of struggles and victories that I have experienced, with growing confidence in my abilities, I have I have found myself focusing more of my attention on the little victories each and every day. Whether it’s reading an entire children’s book in Hindi class or directing the rickshaw driver to go a little bit further down the road without getting a confused/exasperated look in response, I am starting to appreciate how obtainable language learning can be. By no means am I anywhere close to conversational but with 5 weeks of intermediate class under my belt, I am finding joy in the learning process and in the opportunity I have been given. I still get nervous sometimes and will instinctively speak English instead of trying out some new vocab or phrases. But pushing myself outside of my comfort zone is an active process that clearly takes work and is filled with rewards, moments of satisfaction and ultimately, growth.