September 26, 2010 | Hindi

Fifth Avenue

I run a race and mull over my Hindi strategy.

Today I ran the Fifth Avenue Mile. This is an amazing New York event, starting near the Metropolitan Museum of Art and heading south straight down Fifth Avenue. It draws quite an international crowd, of competitors as well as spectators. There are numerous heats for all the different age groups, and the day culminates in high-speed professional races.

Me, Running Down Fifth Avenue

Me, Running Down Fifth Avenue

I felt great for my race. Although I wasn’t able to train for it this summer, I still managed to do better than last year by 12 seconds. But I am looking forward to preparing properly in 2011.

As I close in on the end of Hindi, I am well aware that I have done less interacting with New York City for this language than I have with some other languages in the project to date.

I regret that. I think the causes are multiple:

  1. I find myself particularly fascinated with Hindi writing, and writing is a solitary and antisocial activity. I blame the Hindi script for being too beautiful to resist.
  2. Merely looking at someone, I can’t make a reasonable guess as to whether he or she speaks Hindi; there are just too many languages in that part of the world. Which in turn means I am more reluctant to approach strangers, as I am worried about guessing completely wrong. The outcome: fewer random conversations with New Yorkers.
  3. Most important by far, I didn’t have enough Pimsleur. There are only 30 Pimsleur lessons available for Hindi, as opposed to the usual 90 or more. I enjoy Rosetta Stone and learn a lot from it, but Pimsleur is what most quickly makes me feel comfortable talking to people.

One of Several Jackson Heights Stores Where I Was Too Lame to Try to Strike Up a Hindi Conversation Earlier This Month

One of Several Jackson Heights Stores Where I Was Too Lame to Try to Strike Up a Hindi Conversation Earlier This Month

I know, I know, I need to try Rosetta Stone’s studio lessons (where you interact online with a native speaker). The thing is, Pimsleur is phenomenally efficient at advancing your oral skills wherever you are, and you don’t have to make an appointment or be at your computer or deal with other students. I really, truly love Pimsleur, and I found it a phenomenal handicap not to have more lessons available for this language.

I desperately want Pimsleur to increase their language portfolio. Yes, I suppose a huge pile of money would be needed, but the outcome would be that I, Ellen Jovin, would have enough Pimsleur lessons to satisfy my language-learning needs.

In the meantime, I have to give Rosetta Stone credit, because they have a ton of Hindi content I still haven’t gotten to (and won’t, unfortunately) and also because today their TOTALe product taught me how to say “thank you” in Hindi (I was complaining in my previous entry that I hadn’t learned it yet). I have to say, it’s kind of funny to see some of the accompanying photographs that are designed to help me remember this phrase.

As I have mentioned, in Rosetta Stone at least some of the photos (maybe a lot more than some?) are reused across languages, which means that the same woman you see speaking Greek and Spanish will also tell you things in Hindi, and I assume other languages as well.

That means that ethnically the speakers aren’t always what one might expect. For example, as an illustration of “please” and “thank you”: a white male grocery-store employee loads groceries into a white woman’s car. The white woman thanks him—in Hindi! The guy says, “You’re welcome”—in Hindi!

I’m not complaining at all; I think it’s funny, and kind of cool when you think about it. Your average monolingual American doesn’t even learn more familiar languages like Spanish or French, but these two stray people in a parking lot, who may or may not be American but sure look American, are thanking and your-welcoming each other in Hindi.

Now that is something I’d really love to see.

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