So you’ve signed up for Hindi language courses, you’ve learned the Devanagari alphabet, practised your vocabulary, done all your grammar exercises, but your conversation is limited to the basic words and phrases covered in your beginners’ textbook?
Despite all the time you have put aside to study Hindi verb declensions, you still aren’t able to communicate fluently?
Here are some Superprof tips and tricks to improve your conversational Hindi.
Why Can’t I Speak Hindi?
How is it that, even though you have been learning your vocabulary religiously, done all the written exercises to learn sentence structure and basic phrases, you still can’t get out more than simple greetings in spoken conversation?
That is because you learn languages on several levels. They can be divided into:
- Written and oral comprehension
- Active and passive vocabulary
Written versus Oral Comprehension
Reading something - whether in the Hindi alphabet or transliteration - and hearing it are two different things. Unless you really have an excellent ear, there will always be a certain variation in what you hear when you read a vocabulary list and what you hear when the words are spoken by a native speaker.
For one thing, someone with Hindi as his mother tongue will probably be speaking faster than you. When you read, you have all the time you need to consider the Hindi words and figure out their meaning. For another, he or she might be speaking a dialect that pronounces things slightly differently, whereas the words will always look the same when written down.
Active versus Passive Vocabulary
Then there is the difference between passive and active vocabulary - the difference between understanding and speaking.
It’s easier to understand something that is said because all you need to do is remember the vocabulary. Hopefully, your grammar lessons included enough examples of Hindi phrases that you can eventually automatically comprehend which word is the subject, object and verb.
However, when you try to speak yourself, you not only have to find the right words but also:
- arrange them in the right order
- decline the verb tenses,
- use the right gender,
- match adjectives in number and gender to the nouns, etc.
This may come easily when faced with words on paper, but in front of a live person who is waiting for an answer, perhaps impatiently, whom you feel might be judging you, you often freeze up. Maybe you’re also afraid of getting it wrong and being misunderstood, of your pronunciation not being up to par.
All this comes together to make having a conversation in the Hindi language more difficult than reading or writing. It’s also why it’s often easier to speak a language while drunk - while you still need to call forth the words from your passive vocabulary, you stop overthinking things and simply get the words out.
But since we at Superprof cannot condone drunken language learning, here are some tips for improving your ear and improving your conversation.
Practise Your Listening Skills in the Hindi Language
The first part of a conversation is understanding what people are telling you. This means improving your listening skills and learning to understand Hindi spoken as a native language.
How to learn Hindi through audio
One way to get used to the tones and rhythms of the Hindi language is to listen to an audio recording. It frees you from visual stimuli and lets you focus on the rise and fall of the language.
This is a good solution for learning Hindi on the go. You can listen to audio files almost anywhere - on your daily commute, while out jogging, while doing grunt work or just before going to sleep. Just remember: safety first! You need to be able to hear your surroundings if you are outside or working.
So what kind of audio files are good for practising your Hindi?
- listening to Hindi music.
- Tuning in to a Hindi online radio station or podcast.
- Downloading your favourite Hindi books as audiobooks.
Learning Hindi through Hindi video
But while listening to the Hindi language is good for learning the rhythm of Hindi, the best way to get used to Hindi conversation is to actually see someone speak - after all, the Indian culture is different from ours. There are going to be different visual cues and body language.
For example, where we might nod to show we understand or to punctuate a sentence, in many parts of India they dip their head slightly to the side.
Body language and facial expressions are as important a part of learning a new language as knowing your Hindi vocabulary by heart.
For that, you need to see people speaking Hindi. And there are several ways to do that:
- Learn Hindi online with video blogs, tutorials and YouTube videos. They don’t have to be about learning Hindi, you can watch videos about anything that interests you.
- Watch Indian TV via satellite or online libraries.
- Watch Bollywood movies. Not only will you have fun and learn about the Indian culture, you will also practice your Hindi through listening to dialogue.
Careful, though! Not every Indian video will be in Hindi - they could be in Nepali, Kannada, Gujarati, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi or Bengali.
Learn to Speak Hindi With Conversation Partners
But though improving your listening skills is a good start, it’s not quite enough for your conversation skills. For that, you need the give-and-take of an actual conversation. This is the best way to learn Hindi expressions
But how can you speak to a native speaker without going to India?
The best way is to hook up with a language partner.
Often, this takes the form of a language exchange. You find someone who speaks Hindi and who wants to learn to speak English, and you each spend some time talking exclusively in each language.
There are various ways you can get in touch with a potential language partner.
How to learn Hindi with live language partners
A nice way to learn Hindi and make new friends is to meet up with a language partner in person. There are several websites that can pair you up with a native Hindi speaking course near you.
Or you can see if your local university offers Hindi as a subject. If it does, you can go there and put up a notice on the message board if they have one, advertising for someone to speak Hindi with.
You can also ask local Indian restaurants if you can put up a notice, or in shops that sell Indian products.
Be certain that you first meet in a neutral location, such as a café. Ordering food is also a good way to break the ice!
A good way to make sure you have something to talk about the first few meetings is to both read an article or book or watch the same Hindi movie and discuss it.
Language partners online
There are a number of apps and websites that let you chat with people from various countries - whether you want to learn Portuguese, learn Korean, learn Arabic or learn Chinese. Mostly, it’s written - so they are not necessarily ideal for practising speaking. However, this is a good intermediate solution for learning the give-and-take of conversation while still leaving you time to order your thoughts.
A few apps and websites where people can post their interest in language chats are:
Some of them, though, offer written or face chats on-site (or in-app) such as:
Another option is to get a private tutor in Hindi, either live or via Skype.
Immerse Yourself in Hindi Language and Culture
The best possible way of learning a language, though, is through immersion. And that means going to India.
When choosing where in India you want to live, be sure to choose someplace where Hindi is the main language. For while Hindi is the official language of India for many purposes, it is only one of many. Mostly it is spoken in northern India, in the following states:
- Himachal Pradesh
- Madhya Pradesh
- Uttar Pradesh
There are some other places, such as Mumbai, where Hindi is spoken, but there it is very much influenced by the Marathi language, so unless you have an internship at a Bollywood studio, you should stick to the areas above.
It’s even better if you can take a language course at the same time to improve your knowledge of grammar rules and pronunciation.
Take an immersion holiday
There are a number of companies that offer immersion holidays, or you can plan your own. The idea is not to stay in the tourist hotels, but somewhere you will be forced to interact with locals, going to the market, maybe even taking on a small job for a few weeks.
This means that in that time you will be speaking nothing but Hindi, hearing nothing but Hindi and reading nothing but the Hindi script. The phrase: “Do you speak English?” is taboo on an immersion holiday!
Become an au-pair in India
If you want to stay a bit longer, becoming an au-pair is a possibility.
As an au-pair, you will live with a Hindi-speaking family and help around the house (au-pairs are often used as nannies, so getting on well with children is a plus!). In exchange, they will speak Hindi to you and you will live in India with free room and board.
You will generally have a little bit of pocket money and some au-pair agencies will also offer Hindi language classes to help you with your possessive pronouns and subjunctive.
Or why not try a private tutor to learn Hindi, and get support both in grammar and conversation!