Learning Hindi in Delhi: Interview with an Intercultural Trainer

Posted by Peter Beyes • Friday, February 15. 2013 • Category: Crossing Cultures
Keya Choudhury is a Berlin-based intercultural trainer: She helps individuals and organisations prepare to work in different cultural environments than their own. Taking some time off from her current assignment in Bangalore, Keya recently came to Delhi for a short holiday. Being highly energetic and proactive, sight-seeing and meeting friends proved not fulfilling enough, so she enrolled in a week-long intensive Hindi course with Language Must. In this refreshingly lively interview, Keya shares some of her experiences learning Hindi, living in India and navigating different cultures.

Keya Choudhury, Berlin-based intercultural trainer and Hindi student with Language Must. (c) Keya Choudhury

Can you tell us something about yourself: What brought you to India, what do you do here and what is your professional background?

For the past one and a half years I have been working on a vocational training project in Bangalore. Germany has a very strong tradition of vocational training and we want to bring some of these experiences to India. As of now, the project focuses on vocational training for the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors. Currently, I am Berlin-based but I come to India every one to two months.

How long have you been learning Hindi? What was your motivation to pick up the language?

Languages in general are very important to me and my work. I travel a lot and find that learning a country's language is important when you come there regularly. It shows your respect for the country, its people and culture. I have lived in Italy for some time, so I learnt Italian. When my work took me to Egypt, I learnt Arabic.

More personally, I am half-Indian but don't speak any Indian language properly. Closing this gap was another motivation of mine. Even with my personal background, learning Hindi has still opened my eyes further to the culture. Some e-mails by Indians, for example, can sound rude to German ears. Vivek did an exercise with me in which we translated Hindi into English in a very literal way, as many Indians do. Suddenly, what was rude earlier sounded quite sweet!

In class with Language Must Senior Hindi teacher Vivek Kumar. (c) Language Must

Are you using your language skills outside the classroom? How do people react?

It is great fun! (Laughs) And Vivek is really a gifted teacher! Whatever I learn, I can use immediately. I try to speak as much Hindi as possible when talking to shopowners and riskhaw drivers. I also started writing some emails in Hindi and it works quite well. Actually too well: My contacts seem to think I suddenly mastered the language so they reply only in Hindi …

People here really like foreigners at least trying to speak their language. Sometimes I take out my Hindi sheets in the rikshaw to look up a word and I get a lot of smiles and encouragement. I'm not good at remembering the numbers, for example, but there are always people willing to help me out.

What do you like about Hindi and what do you find peculiar about it?

It is noteworthy, for example, that the first grammatical construction Vivek tought me was not the present tense but the imperative. That makes sense from a learner's perspective but also says a lot about the ties between language and culture.

As I often say in my seminars, context is very important in India. Bollywood movies are a good example: Of course there is content (spoken word) but tone of voice and gestures – the context – are given a lot of attention, too. As a student, its great fun to notice and copy these gestures! I think Hindi is much more concise than German. It's not like it carries less meaning, not at all. But information is conveyed in more than just words.

One peculiar thing that Vivek has made me aware of is the use of English. When you don't know a word, use the English equivalent. Similarly, when you don't know a verb but only a related noun, take that noun and add to do (karna).

How do your colleagues/friends/relatives react when you tell them that you are learning Hindi?

My father is Bengali and he was super happy about my decision! He understands that Bengali has only limited use to me, so there hasn't been any problem about me choosing Hindi.

My boss in Germany initially didn't understand why I wanted to learn Hindi, his reaction was something like: “What is the use of this? Please work, instead of learning another language!” After I made clear to him that I'm doing this not just for fun but out of serious interest he was okay with it. Generally speaking, people have been very positive.

Would you recommend others to learn Hindi?

Yes, absolutely!

Do you want to take the next step of cultural immersion? Do a Hindi course with Language Must! Have a course customised to suit your individual needs or enrol in one of our group courses! For more information please contact Language Must: +91-(0) 11 2649 1817 or visit us on our website: www.language-must.com

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