Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Studying Hindi, learning a new language

One of the things I enjoy most is studying languages. A few years back, I took it upon myself to learn Hindi. This is, by far, the most difficult language I have ever studied because it has very little in common with any of the other languages I am familiar with. To start with, the alphabet is completely different (devanagari) so every single word must be memorized. It’s not like, when you know Italian, you can somehow connect with the other Romance languages, Spanish or French. Of course, there are many differences amongst these languages, too, however, at least, the alphabet is the same and the root of these languages is Latin. Needless to say, learning Hindi has proven to be quite a challenge. 

In this day and age, we seem to be so caught up in our exterior selves, i.e., trying to keep the body looking as young as possible, that we forget to give the same attention to the mind. It is my personal opinion that keeping the mind young, fresh, open, and as ‘elastic’ as possible is more important. I have also recently realized that the more expansive my mind becomes, the better my yoga asanas become. There is, of course, a direct connection but it is the mind that rules the body. If one takes into consideration the expansion of the heart, in the metaphorical and emotional sense, then one realizes that one’s entire yoga practice takes on an entirely different meaning. Anyway, about languages….Studying Hindi has helped me expand my mind. At times, it feels as if different neurons in my mind are literally ‘coming alive’. It’s a completely different feeling to studying, say, philosophy, which ‘wakes me up’ in a different manner. At times while studying Hindi, I feel as if my head were a giant computer and there was a tiny ‘mouse’ searching for the right word, ‘clicking’ on every possibility in every corner of my mind searching desperately for the right vocabulary, the correct grammatical tense. When it fails, it can be frustrating, but when it succeeds, little lights go off inside and its like, ‘hey, another neuron has woken up!’ Good morning brain, something is still functioning in there! :-) 
I have been asked, quite often, how exactly to study a language. I have many friends who, for example, would like to learn English but they get frustrated when they realize that it is not such an easy language, so they give up. For a start, no language is easy if you want to speak it properly. 
The only thing I can say is, keep at it. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t think that you are less intelligent than someone else just because that person can speak the language. And don’t tell a lot of people that you are studying a new language. I remember when I first began studying Hindi, the people I thought would give me support, were the ones that teased me the most when I made a mistake. Don’t take it personally. 
As you have noticed, I have uploaded two photographs. The first one is of the first page one of the first stories I tried to read in Hindi, after about 6 months of studying. As you can see, I had to translate almost every word and even so, it was extremely difficult to read. I think it took me about three hours. :-) The second photograph is of the first page of another story, with a more difficult text. I recently read it to myself and, as you can see, I only had to translate a few words. I read it in less than five minutes. Between the first story and the second one, almost three years of hard studying went by. 

Learning a language is difficult for everyone, but don’t give up. Languages are keys that open up so many doors, in the outside world and in the inner. Communication leads to a better understanding of others and of oneself.