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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning Hindi, one year in

Last summer I was walking through the mall with my best friend and I saw a Rosetta Stone stand. My friend was interested in learning Arabic for her work and I had an older version of Hindi that I had done a little bit of work with and liked (I didn't know at the time that there was anything new!). We went over to the stand and the demo that was going looked different, and much much better than the software that I had. The salesman informed me that the program had recently been updated and I was very impressed with what I saw.

The old version had some problems with it. It taught you early on really weird and somewhat useless things. I got really good at saying "The bird is flying" in Hindi, but all the sentences you learned were structured like that. There was no speaking about ones self, no greetings, no where is the bathroom? Also, they had listening exercises, reading exercises, and speaking exercises, but they were separated in such a way that you would get going in one of them and you'd just keep going, so you had to back all the way out to try a different method. Also when I first bought it, they only had Hindi in level 1 and the "popular" languages in levels 1, 2, and 3.

The shiny new Rosetta Stone solved all of these problems and was much more beautiful to use as well. I discovered that they had three levels of Hindi now (and levels 4 and 5 in the popular languages!).

I didn't have a job at the time and it was very expensive. My friend was put off by the expense and also by the fact that she needs to learn the Syrian dialect of Arabic, not the standard Arabic. I, however, could not resist. I bought all three levels and put it on my credit card.

I've never regretted doing that.

I love Rosetta Stone and I sing its praises to everyone I meet! I was never good at languages as a kid and switched from Spanish to Latin in the 6th grade because the pressure to speak in Spanish class was so overwhelming and I didn't know what to say. I continued, badly, with dead languages. But I still loved language so much. I have two degrees in writing. I took linguistics classes in college and loved them. I dreamed of being bilingual someday. Rosetta Stone started me on that path.

It has been almost a year since that purchase. A couple months ago I had almost made it through level 3 when my computer died and I had to call customer service to transfer to another computer. Instead of asking how to get my progress back, I decided to start over from the beginning to help reinforce what I was learning.

As my first post on Hindi told you, I also use a huge variety of other products, from books and youtube videos to flashcards, computer games, and movies to supplement the Rosetta Stone learning.

It's very hard to rate progress in a language. Lately I've been reading a lot of blogs about people learning other languages, trying to be bilingual or, more often, trying to learn many languages and their advice on how to proceed. Through them I discovered this chart of language knowledge:

level description

A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

This will help me clarify my goals and see where I am. After a year of somewhat intensive study (although I have a lot of other things going on too) I am at the A1 level, though probably about to break through into A2.

A little disappointing, but I knew this endeavor was going to be difficult. I think having this chart will allow me to set more concrete goals to reach for, so I can speed up my progress. One of the key motivators is my desire to raise my children in two languages. I've also been reading a lot of blogs of mothers raising bilingual children, even some of them doing it in a language that is not native to them. There are links below. I calculate that it will be a year and a few months before I can start trying for a baby, so that's my time frame for getting all the way to the top of the chart! (Okay, a B2 level would probably be fine for the early learning and I could continue my progress as the kid is growing).

The main way I had been gauging my progress is by playing my favorite Bollywood movie (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) without subtitles and seeing how many words I recognize. I did that first this past summer after doing a little bit of Rosetta Stone and I'd say I recognized about one word in twenty-five. I'm currently somewhere between one word in ten and one word in five, so I have come a long way! It's still frustrating to feel how far I have yet to go, but a year is really not that long in terms of language study.

When I know a word, it really sticks out in the movie. I know that once I really understand Hindi it will all be clear as a bell instead of now where it sounds like "mumble mumble mumble kutta mumble..."

I'm taking some study techniques from the blogs I've been reading. One is to keep a language journal to record what I studied each day to keep me accountable and to help me see my progress. Another is to do an active/passive week thing to keep from getting burnt out. One week I'll study with Rosetta Stone, grammar books, flashcards and really try hard, and the next week I'll learn passively by watching movies, listening to music and just being absorbed in the language to remind me how much I love it. A lot of people on these sites also use Anki flashcards to learn. I went to the website and downloaded it and I've been very impressed. It uses adaptive recall just like Rosetta Stone, so you rate how easy a word was to get and the easier ones will come back up less frequently. You should watch their youtube videos about how it works. Really neat. Someone has created a huge deck of the vocab from Teach Yourself Hindi and it is in devanagari script (although the font they're using is rather difficult to read).

I practice saying Hindi sentences to the dog and for the last few days I've been trying to translate my thoughts in my head into Hindi. I'm still pretty shaky on verb tenses and noun case endings, though!

As part of preparing for children, I'm going to try to memorize this lullaby:

[Darn! Another video removed. This is a very beautiful lullaby. If you can find "So ja Chanda" it is really worth hearing!]

I've been working on translating it.

I'll leave you with a lot of links to enjoy:

List of Hindi Resources

Parents raising bilingual kids:

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