Teach Yourself Hindi (with CDs)
Revised April 8, 2013
Authors Rupert Snell, Simon Weightman
Series Teach Yourself
Publication Date 2003
Skill Level Beginner, Intermediate
The book part of this Teach Yourself Hindi book-CD combo package starts out: “This course is designed to enable those with no previous knowledge of Hindi to learn to read, write and converse in the language with confidence and enjoyment. The course has also proved effective as teaching material for both class tuition and individual study.”
I abandoned Teach Yourself Hindi by page 26. I would like to take you through the process that led to that abandonment, because it underscores in my opinion the triumph of form over content in the language-learning marketplace and therefore matters very much to me and to other people trying to learn languages.
On page 3, I was informed that the book includes 37 dialogues involving the Kumar family of Delhi and their guest Pratap of London, and that many of the exercises are part of this familial narrative. I groaned mentally when I saw that. That is an awful lot of commitment to a single family I’ve never met.
The syllabary for Hindi was introduced on page 7, in font so small my eyeballs nearly fell out of my head. Can publishers making foreign-language books with different writing systems please make letters and words big enough so that people—especially people who are just starting out—can read them? It is really, really hard to read unfamiliar symbols with unfamiliar swirls. A totally different experience for a neophyte than for a native or fluent speaker-reader.
On page 11, after lists of consonants and vowels had just ended, I was told, “Just when you thought you had mastered the script, along come the conjunct characters.” (Conjuncts are combination characters.) Well, folks, I did not master the script—how and when could that possibly have happened?—so that was irksome.
On page 13, in a very delicate stage of the language-learning process, I was given a table of 100 (!) of the most common conjuncts.
On page 16 in a pronunciation section, I encountered the following impenetrable excerpt: “There are occasions when an inherent vowel is not pronounced in the middle of a word, even though the spelling involves no conjunct. As a general rule, the inherent vowel remains silent in the second syllable of a word whose third character either includes a vowel sign…or is followed by a fourth syllable….This rule does not apply when the second or third syllable of the word has a conjunct.”
On page 20, I got my first dialogue starring Pratap and one of his hosts, in the tiniest of Hindi font. Deadly tiny. But even if it had been bigger, I still wouldn’t have been able to read it, because I was brand new to the language, and listing consonants and vowels and conjuncts would not have taught me how to read them.
On page 26, I was given little snippets of Hindi and told to use them to fill in the blanks in a series of Hindi sentences. In the margin I wrote: “How the hell am I supposed to do this? I can’t read Hindi!”
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how a language-learning undertaking gets abandoned.
I would like to mention that one of the authors, Rupert Snell, wrote another McGraw-Hill book that I really liked, entitled Teach Yourself Beginner’s Hindi Script. It falls under the same Teach Yourself umbrella as this one, but unlike this one, it is very clear.
This particular Teach Yourself Hindi product is part of a combination book-CD series that McGraw-Hill puts out for multiple languages. Each such product is wrapped in a cute clear plastic package that showcases the fact that you get a book along with the two CDs (while also making the combination look much bigger than it needs to be), and the spine misleadingly reads “Complete Audio CD Program.” I have reviewed three so far, including this one along with Arabic and Greek, and I regard all of them as spectacular failures.
The bizarre inattention in all three of these packages to how humans learn makes me suspect, though I have no way of knowing this for sure, that there is an unworkable format being mandated from the McGraw-Hill side, one focused more on marketing ambitions than on actual learning efficacy.
Addendum: Since I used this product, it has gone out of print, and McGraw-Hill has issued an updated version under the name Complete Hindi with Two Audio CDs: A Teach Yourself Guide. Recently I looked through a copy at Barnes & Noble. The layout has improved, but the table of contents is virtually identical, meaning one is still going to be at the endless mercy of the Kumar family and Pratap.