In any language?
I started learning Hindi this year. I thought it would be good preparation for my big move. Before this, I knew only a few basic words like “Namaste” and that was it.
Whilst my background is Indian, my parents first language is not Hindi, but rather Gujarati (Gujarat is a state in North West India, and most famous for being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi). My parents are also fluent in English and know some Swahili (they both were born and raised in East Africa). They have learned Hindi through their love of Bollywood. Given this, I thought I might have a head-start in my quest to learn Hindi.
I have found two things challenging.
First, my parents knowledge of 4 languages has complicated my knowledge of each of those languages. I have no idea which language the words they used as I grew up came from. I only discovered last year that the word I had always used to describe “sweeping the floor” was not Gujarati but rather Swahili. This means I can’t rely on any words I learned through osmosis in my childhood.
Secondly, there are many words in Gujarati that are similar to Hindi, but not exactly. Its a case of same same but different. This complicates my learning of Hindi because I keep getting my Gujarati and Hindi confused. For example, the word for “three” in Hindi is “theen” and in Gujarati is “traan”. Very very similar, but just different enough to be confusing.
I have also found one thing much easier than I expected. Learning a new alphabet.
Until 3 months ago, I would look at the Devanagari script (the Hindi script) with fascination and could not comprehend how it was written or understood. I now not only know the letters, but can write and am slowly finding myself reading the language. It has quickly changed from being a foreign fascination, to something quite familiar.
With this familiarity comes comfort.
As I get ready to move countries, I feel comfort that I will not be isolated in a country where I can’t understand what is going on around me. Whilst my command of the Hindi language is still very basic, the ability to read a language does bring some power. After all, the ability to read is one of the invisible factors that distinguishes the poverty line for many. I am hoping my ability to read will separate me from other foreigners, and help me to assimilate. Its a small thing, but one I am now rather proud of.
It goes to show, you are never too old to learn to read.