September 30, 2010 | Hindi

Namaste, Hindi

I work on my Hindi script while bemoaning my fragile conversational skills.

My final days of Hindi were relatively uneventful. I continued with Rosetta Stone and my favorite orange Teach Yourself Hindi book by Mohini Rao—and I returned to Pimsleur.

Even though there were only 30 Pimsleur lessons available for Hindi, I had never made it through the final two. Instead, I stopped several weeks back after lesson 28. I didn’t like the idea of having no Pimsleur left, I guess, so I saved some for later.

All That Usually Remains Once I Begin a Pint of Häagen-Dazs

All That Usually Remains Once I Begin a Pint of Häagen-Dazs

It was kind of like leaving a little ice cream for later, which I basically never do.  

I have to say, when I first returned to Pimsleur after those weeks away from it, things were looking kind of bleak. I started out with lesson 27, for a refresher, and promptly thought, wow, I suck.

But by lesson 28 things were looking up, and I made it through 29 and 30 without incident, even encountering some interesting past-tense verbs along the way. (Most of my Hindi experiences have been confined to present tense.)

I also learned that you can use the same Hindi word for both “tomorrow” and “yesterday.” That’s messed up. (It is pronounced about halfway between kal and kul, by the way.)

As a final tribute to Hindi, I considered whether I wanted to venture out again into the streets of New York and make one last attempt at holding conversations. To help me decide, I tested my skills by having imaginary conversations with myself.

I feel I am quite good at having imaginary conversations with myself. Not only do imaginary conversations test fluency, but they also, in my opinion, help develop fluency. I have had many imaginary foreign-language conversations with myself over the years.

They work as follows: You picture a person standing in front of you that you then start a conversation with in whatever language you’re studying. Nothing fancy, maybe something like, “Hello, do you speak [fill in language]?” or “It’s nice weather today, isn’t it?”

Then you imagine their likely response. (Sorry to any grammarians who can’t tolerate the use of “their” when “person” is the antecedent, but the absence of a singular gender-neutral possessive pronoun in English is just too limiting for me right now. I am, at least in my head, lobbying for acceptance of “their” as a singular gender-neutral possessive form. It would make life much easier for writers!)

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, they respond, and then you realize you don’t have the vocabulary to answer exactly as you like. It’s as though a concrete wall has been dropped between you and your conversation partner. So you must then imagine another route, around that wall, using different vocabulary to express a similar idea.

If you know enough words, and are flexible in how you express yourself, you can often reroute. But the rerouting also requires vocabulary. And the question is, are you equipped to reroute often enough around inevitable vocabulary impasses to have a conversation?

I feel very capable of rerouting in Spanish. I make mistakes, I am missing words I need, but I can work through my limitations and walk right around those walls.

After talking to myself for a while in Hindi, though, I wasn’t sure how far I would be able to get talking to another human being. I have accumulated quite a bit of passive vocabulary through Rosetta Stone, but by definition, a lot of it I can only recognize; much of it I am not able to conjure up on the spot for my own use in conversation. My active vocabulary comes mostly from Pimsleur, and I just didn’t get enough Pimsleur for this language.

I Practice Turning Transliterations Into Hindi

I Practice Turning Transliterations Into Hindi

Therefore, most of my alternate routes merely led to new walls. So I decided to wind down my Hindi days by doing something I have really, really enjoyed: practicing my Hindi writing skills.

I quizzed myself by covering up Hindi sentences in my orange book, then writing the Hindi myself off of the associated transliterations. Things like, “My watch is slow by five minutes.” Or “Don’t keep these things together.” And I did pretty darn well, if I do say so myself!

Tomorrow: a new day and a new language. Well, not particularly new for me. German and I have a long history, which I will elaborate on shortly.

Comments (2)

Claire • Posted on Sun, April 21, 2013 - 4:04 pm EST

Really enjoying the blog. It’s nice to know someone else is as crazy about grammar. Especially enjoyed how random the sentences you learn are. I learn another Indian language (Khasi) and the first thing the book taught me was ‘The hen is on the box’.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, April 21, 2013 - 6:44 pm EST

The hen is on the box? How funny!

I regret to tell you that in my experience, grammar addictions tend to get worse with time, not better.

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