To Learn or Not to Learn
Before I came to Delhi, many of my Indian friends from the states told me not to worry, everyone speaks English in big Indian cities! I downloaded a language app to start learning Hindi, but my Indian friends insisted that they don’t even know Hindi (being from Bangalore). I wasn’t too worried until I stepped out of the airport in New Delhi. There were so many taxi drivers piled up, but someone from the office was picking us up. And so many people kept speaking in a foreign language to the group. Even more so they were trying to help with our bags. This was my first encounter with Delhi, realizing that yes, I do need to learn Hindi!! Walking around my neighborhood, there are some shop keepers who speak English, mostly using every word they know in the first few sentences. I’ve learned a few phrases, but every time my Indian roommate bargains with an auto driver, I feel so intimidated. For me, working and living with English speakers makes me feel like I am in a bubble. In the US I am very independent and can speak for myself. Here I feel like I always need someone who knows Hindi to get around.
Language Gives You Confidence and Respect!
So I started to work on my Hindi and become more confident. My first outing was to a grocery store about ten minutes from my house. I looked up the directions, but I kept getting turned around in the alleys. I asked a woman for guidance, but she didn’t understand what I was asking. I was worried that if I couldn’t even ask for directions, my Hindi must be terrible. While feeling discouraged I decided to dive into Indian culture by watching Bollywood movies. Watching Hindi movies takes all my effort because I must read the subtitles, so I have been picking up certain phrases and while learning more about Indian culture. It has boosted my confidence and made me want to learn how to dance Bollywood style!
I decided to test my Hindi by joining a two-month Bollywood dance class in my neighborhood. While the instructor knows English, he mostly speaks in Hindi during the class. I feel comfortable with the eight other women, even though I am such a horrible dancer. But at least one of my dance classmates doesn’t know English. We communicate through facial expressions and hand signals of encouragement but when I speak to her, I know she doesn’t understand what I am saying. This was the most motivating experience for me to learn Hindi. While I am still learning and getting used to a new culture, I am so proud for stepping out of my comfort zone and trying out my Hindi. It’s a challenge, but it has been so rewarding the few times I have tried to speak Hindi. Learning the language has also made me more confident and independent. Instead of feeling like a visitor, I can start to feel like India is a second home to me.
Natalie Thompson is the author, Natalie visited and lived in India for over 3 months. She worked at EMI World, New Delhi.