Learning Hindi won’t make you a knock-out Bollywood dancer or enable your taste buds to cope with the number of chilis in a “real” Indian curry — at least, not immediately. It will, however, allow you to practice with locals outside of your Hindi classes and explore India on a deeper level. Hindi is not just India’s official language (with English), but it’s also second only to Mandarin as the most widely spoken language in the entire world. Whoa! With India’s rapid rate of development, diverse landscapes and cultures, and wealth of opportunities for adventure, it’s an ideal location to learn to speak Hindi and make a dent in your bucket list.
Deciding where specifically you want to study is much more than throwing a dart on a map, but owing to India’s colossal size, you probably wouldn’t miss. A couple of hotspots are renowned for offering quality Hindi classes with a range of study options, but you’ll find study buddies and adventurous allies a-plenty wherever you go!
New Delhi, India’s buzzing capital, is home to a host of language schools — perfect if you want to learn to speak Hindi. Delhi will offer you plenty of opportunities to practice your skills in its sprawling markets and tantalizing restaurants. Be sure to learn some foodie vocab so that you can taste the flavors of the city (and maybe order a glass of water on the side for those slightly too spicy surprises). The hybrid of intriguing cultures in this bustling metropolis has resulted in a wealth of cultural sites to explore. Take time out from studying to visit some of the magnificent temples, like the Lotus or Hare Krishna. As the capital, the city is also well connected by air, road, and rail to the rest of the country, making it an ideal base for further exploration.
If Delhi isn’t your cup of chai tea, you’ll find plenty of those in the Himalayan city of Dehradun, another Hindi school attendee favorite. Nestled comfortably between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, this picturesque city offers a cooler, more comfortable climate, and a smaller, more navigable introduction to India. You won’t be short of options when it comes to language schools, meaning you won’t be short of friends to study and explore with either. Due to its geographical location, the city is an adventurer's paradise, well connected for hiking, kayaking, climbing, rafting and other outdoor sports with a stunning backdrop. Don’t forget to put those Hindi skills into practice as you visit local museums, temples, and cultural sites around town as well.
Calcutta, the former capital of British India, with colonial architecture that will transport you back to the “days of the Raj.” Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a city of old traditions and history alone; it is, in fact, a modern hub of culture and art driven by forward-thinking, younger members of the city’s “millennial” population. Learning Hindi in this “city of contrasts” will offer you the linguistic key-code to explore the rapidly-developing India of today. You’ll find plenty of places to socialize and practice your Hindi skills after class — be sure to experience the contemporary night scene and befriend some of the locals to learn more about this intriguing city and modern Indian culture overall.
Hindi Programs in India
Hindi language programs in India have evolved to offer some unique and interesting combination packages. Enrolling in a program that meets your needs is integral to study success, so be sure to consider your time frame and objectives carefully as you select a school. If fluency is the name of the game, then you will, of course, want to commit to a longer program with several days of extended study per week. If that doesn’t work with your calendar, you might want to consider putting in more hours per day over a shorter time and including some individual tutoring to maximize your learning.
There are packages which include travel within the country and a range of adventure activities, perfect for the Bear Grylls wannabes out there (or you know, any explorers). Providing a safe and structured introduction to India, they’re ideal for first-time travelers or those feeling a little intimidated by going solo from the start. If you’re not drawn to an adrenaline rush, consider packages that combine language study with yoga — a great way to connect with yourself and India’s spiritual side!
Coming back to the language study itself (it’s easy to get distracted by all the amazing travel opportunities!), most programs allow you to tailor the study style to your own preferences. Small group classes are generally the baseline, introducing you to some fellow language learners. Those looking to advance further, however, may wish to take on some additional one-to-one tutoring.
Many of the programs will combine classroom-based learning with more interactive methods, both out on the streets and via audio-visual technology. The idea of having to use your language skills with native speakers may be intimidating at first, but it really is the best way to learn. This will also help introduce you to the town and (hopefully) give you the confidence to go out and practice yourself in your free time!
India’s Hindi Subtleties & Nuances
Not only does India host speakers of a multitude of different languages, but it also hosts a broad selection of dialects within them. You might have thought that learning Hindi in India would be enough of a challenge, but the real fun will begin as you travel to different regions as you learn to speak Hindi — don’t be surprised if you encounter some of the six widely spoken dialects.
At that, you might feel like a water buffalo in the headlights (stunned and afraid), but fear not! Language schools teach a standardized format of Hindi that most speakers can understand, regardless of their dialect. In general, the differences become more pronounced as geographical distance increases, so you can ease yourself into the challenge by traveling slowly (you’ll want to take your time and enjoy all that India has to offer anyway!).
If you decide to take your backpack down south, it’s important to be aware that this is an area in which you will encounter completely different languages and may need to revert back to English in order to communicate. So if you find yourself being met by blank stares, maybe check your guidebook and try a different approach!
Benefits & Challenges
Overall, learning Hindi is going to be a useful skill for communication both in India and around the world. Mastering your Hindi classes can be greatly beneficial for college applications or job opportunities even where it is not specifically required. Multi-language speakers have been found better able to cope with intellectually challenging tasks, meaning that learning a second language basically makes you smarter. Speaking multiple languages may even reduce the likelihood of developing dementia in old age, so you’ll be able to recall those amazing travel memories longer!
Learning a language like Hindi in India is always going to require perseverance as you're taxing yourself with completely new scripture, grammatical structures, and cultural norms. The varied dialects and regional language differences mean that after you’ve mastered the basics, there will be more challenges to come, but this will reap further rewards. Throw in the challenges associated with traveling in India, such as culture shock, heat and humidity, a little Dehli-belly, and the occasional rogue elephant, you won’t be settling down for an easy vacation (but who wants that, anyway?).That being said, overcoming these obstacles will make it memorable for years to come.
Taking Hindi lessons is more of a trek in the Himalayas than a walk in the park, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges in terms of the doors opened for experiences and personal development. You’ll need to work hard, but it will be worthwhile, and you’ll be singing fluently to the Bollywood theme songs before you know it!