Bharat ki Bhasha

By Greta Herbertz


Several factors motivated my decision to spend the summer before my freshman year of college halfway across the world in India. The first was the idea of pure adventure. India in my mind would be the trip of a lifetime- a place I would never have dreamed of going. The second factor was the allure of learning Hindi, which is the fourth most spoken language in the world. No less, learning in a country with such a unique linguistic landscape. I didn't understand the depth and importance of that landscape until I arrived in Pune.

I remember when I discovered that my host family's first language isn't Hindi. "They speak WHAT language?" I remember asking. The answer: Marathi, the official language of the Indian state of Maharashtra. I was quickly reassured that they also knew Hindi and English. That was my first glimpse of the bi- and trilingual households common in Maharashtra and India. In my host family, my sisters had been speaking Marathi from birth, attended an English medium school, and knew Hindi both from school and Bollywood music and films. English medium schools are the most common in Pune, but I've also seen Marathi, Hindi, and Urdu schools.

Another phenomenon I have noticed is how the two main alphabets (Roman and Devanagari) are used almost interchangeably. Oftentimes English words are written with Hindi letters to make them easier to read. For example, ñHy$b school). Or conversely, Hindi words are written phonetically in Roman script: ghar (home). Because of this constant mix of languages and alphabets, people are familiar with English even if they don't speak it. Perhaps logically, then, "Hinglish" is rampant as people mix words of both languages. Even when my family is speaking Marathi, English words creep their way in.

In the early days of living with my host family, I explained to my mom that English is so widely used in the US that people don't often see the need for a second language. Curriculums are lax, and students often struggle to speak a language even after taking it for 3 or 4 years in high school. But here in India, I've seen firsthand the importance of learning to communicate, especially because Indian states often have their own official language.

My personal Hindi journey started in March when I received my NSLIY acceptance letter, and will continue next year as I study linguistics and take Hindi classes in school. 6 weeks isn't enough time to master a language, but as I have proven on this trip, it's enough time to build a foundation and understanding to continue learning in years to come.

NSLI-Y allumni speak....

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iEARN-India Survey NSLI-Y 2018

What has been your most satisfying experience during your stay of  six weeks in Pune? 

  • Being with friends. I also became really good friends with my host sibling So that was cool.

  • Staying with my host family.

  • Hindi language learning

  • I loved my host family. They are my real family and it was the hardest thing saying goodbye to them.

  • I loved my host family. They made my experience in India worthwhile.

  • My most satisfying experience in the last six weeks was being able to go to school every day to learn Hindi 5 hours every day and immerse in cultural activities which gave me more insight about Indian culture.

  • Our conversation time during class was the best experience I've had to understanding cultural differences and where I was able to learn more about my peers. In the end, coming to school every day was a great opportunity to be out of the house and learn something!