“I thought everyone would speak English in India”, regrets Saskia, 21, a Dutch student who worked for Khushii, an Indian NGO based in Delhi. “I came to help, but in the fieldwork, there is nothing but Hindi, so I recommend to every foreigner to know a bit of Hindi”.
But is Hindi an easy language to learn? “I can speak English French and German, but Hindi is really difficult” explains Cecilia, a Swiss student who took Hindi classes at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) last year. It took her almost three months to know the alphabets properly. Later, it helped her in her work with a foreign firm in India. Over the phone, she knew how to ask Hindi speaking people to put her through someone who could speak English. But she confesses she had to repeat it several times because of her mispronunciation.
Kapel Sharma, a private Hindi teacher in Delhi says that most of his foreign students cannot pronounce his name properly. “They either call me “Kaapel” or “Kapeel”. My name is Kapel”, he insists. “Phonetics is the most difficult thing in Hindi. Usually, foreigners don’t know the difference between “g” and “gh”, “k” and “kh”, “f” and “fh”. So, it is difficult for them to be understood. According to him, “it takes at least 6 months to be fluent”.
Francis Wacziarg, a businessman who left France forty years ago says “Hindi is a very difficult language, but similar to the European languages. For example, the verb is always at the end of the sentence, like in German”. Mr Wacziarg who was keen to learn Hindi took classes in Mumbai for three years. Then, he worked for many years with the locals in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkota and Delhi. Today, he can speak Hindi fluently. His daughterAude Pryia Engel, who is an opera singer in India, could read boards in the street after three lessons.
It is always better to learn Hindi in India rather than in some foreign country. Alissa Upakara, 22, a Thai social worker in Delhi, knew that speaking Hindi would help, so three years back, she had taken a short term Hindi course in Silpakorn University, Bangkok. After 50 hours, she got a Basic Hindi certificate. But when she began to work in Delhi, she realized she could not speak Hindi at all. In Thailand, she did not practice, though she could understand 60 % of a conversation.
Contrary to Alissa, Helene Ferrarini, a French student of 20, took a full two years Hindi course in Paris. It proved to be a productive exercise. She is now living in Delhi and she can buy vegetables by herself, bargain and communicate spontaneously with her Indian roommate.
For foreign students, learning Hindi is both vital and advantageous. The world's second most spoken language is not taught a lot outside India, as Spanish, English or German in Europe. Thus, Hindi has become an asset for foreigners, even outside India, because on a resume, it can make the difference.
So if you are a foreign student, along with the VISA, the vaccines and mosquito coils, you better take a Hindi conversation book… and courage!