The 2020 Global Pandemic Lockdown inspired many of us to make changes in our lives, myself included. I accepted a job offer for a people-facing job merely days before the lockdown began, therefore my start date was delayed by months. Due to this, I had infinite amounts of newfound free time. I decided to utilize some of this free time by learning new skills, a big one being learning a second language: Hindi.
From a young age, I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of traveling the world, and I have loved learning about other cultures for as long as I can remember. I was a Girl Scout for my entire school days, and my absolute favorite activity was when we would have Cultural Event Fairs and get to learn about many different cultures all in the same day. These days were always so magical to me! Later, I would spend hours upon hours daydreaming about what my life would be like had I been born in another country. What’s more, I would fantasize about what it would be like if I could speak another language, such as Spanish, like some of the girls in my Girl Scout Troop could. Sometimes, I’d even secretly wish that I would’ve been born into a different family, one that was bilingual who would’ve taught me a second language along with English while growing up.
While I can’t hop into a time machine and make any of these fantasies come true, as an adult, I can make an effort to learn a second language like I’d always wanted. The lockdown provided plenty of time to devote to this daunting task, and the Enneagram 8 within me was up for a new challenge. After all, when else will I have time to undertake an enormous journey such as this one?
One more thing I should mention – I began dating my now-boyfriend-of-3-years, Monish, just two months before this lockdown began. The important thing to note about Monish? He was born and raised in India, having moved to the United States in 2017, and he is trilingual (a trait that I envy!) as he speaks English, Hindi (one of India’s official languages which is widely spoken) and Gujarati (regional language). Not only did I already have a previous desire to learn a second language, but now I had an opportunity learn one that my new boyfriend and his family speaks – a SUPER win! In case you haven’t gathered this by now, I was beyond motivated and ready to get this language-learning-party started!
But… Where to begin?
Previously, I’d tried learning Spanish via the Duolingo app and failed miserably as I… 1. Didn’t take it seriously enough and 2. Didn’t have someone who I could practice speaking Spanish with on a daily basis. Both of these ingredients are key to successfully achieving fluency in another language. Lucky for me, this time around I had access to both of these ingredients, so I went straight to Duolingo to start my Hindi Language Learning Journey, as I would later call this.
What I love about Duolingo is that their learning style is in the format of games, making the learning process both interactive and fun. I quickly became obsessed with “playing Duolingo” and asking Moni and his roommate for help with pronouncing new Hindi words that I learned. Hindi is a very complex language as it has ways of pronouncing words and letters that differ greatly from English, making learning pronunciations difficult at times. I’ve had to train my tongue to move in new ways (a bad thing? Probably not ??) in order to pronounce certain words correctly, because a slight difference in pronunciation often changes the meaning of the word entirely. Additionally, Hindi is written in two forms – one way is to use the English alphabet (most commonly used across tech devices and the internet) and the second way is to use Hindi alphabet, which contains 46 letters written using what I best describe as symbols.
One significant downfall to beginning my learning journey using Duolingo was that all of the Hindi lessons were taught using the Hindi alphabet – something that I still haven’t learned to this day and likely never will as I do not plan to live in India. This made learning incredibly difficult in the beginning because I knew how to say new Hindi words that I’d learned, but if I wanted to type them in a text to Monish or his parents (who still live in India), I had no clue how to spell these words using the English alphabet. What a headache! Additionally, this app only contains 4 units of lessons for Hindi and I completed all of them within a years time. Although this sounds like a super cool accomplishment, doing so meant that I was back to square one with my learning journey – where to go next to continue learning?
Nonetheless, I am very grateful for getting a start using Duolingo as it provided me with being able to learn the pronunciations of Hindi letters and words that I then learned how to speak and listen for. Also, Duolingo is completely free (another perk!) unless you want to purchase the paid version for “unlimited hearts”. My advice? Don’t pay for it – just stay diligent with practicing each day as the free version is more than enough when first starting out.
Simultaneously while “playing” the Duolingo app, I began to watch Bollywood movies with Monish as a way to practice listening to Hindi being spoken in conversation form. Before you get too impressed, we turned on English subtitles that I would read while watching, and we still do so to this day. Not going to lie – I couldn’t even watch 30 minutes of the first Bollywood movie that we turned on (3 Idiots) as I found it extremely difficult to watch what was happening on the screen while reading the subtitles below. Holy shit, this was something that I was not used to, and ultimately had to train myself to learn how to do. Eventually, watching Bollywood movies became much easier to do, more fun to watch and something that I now greatly enjoy. In case you’re wondering, I did go back and watch all of 3 Idiots from start to finish and it is one of my top favorite Bollywood movies to date!
But eventually, I found that these two tasks alongside practicing my beginner-level Hindi with Monish wasn’t enough. I needed someone to teach me, specifically an expert in the language, if I was ever going to reach fluency. By this time, it was July 2021 and the world was slowly beginning to open back up a bit. COVID vaccines were available and both myself and Monish had gotten ours, therefore we were now comfortable with the idea of me taking some private lessons with a local teacher in Houston. So, Moni and I began doing some research. We quickly came to a dead end – apparently no one teaches in-person Hindi lessons in the Houston area. But if there actually was someone doing this, they did not want to be found because we spent countless hours trying to find a real, live, local teacher for me. In the end, we gave up on this idea and dove straight into the world that the COVID lockdown brought us all to – the digital world.
Once we changed our Google search from “Hindi teacher in Houston” to “online Hindi teacher“, an entire world of possibility opened up to us. We’d hit the jackpot and I now had a wide variety of both platforms and teachers to choose from. Hooray! One of the top search results was a site call Verbling, and we decided to check this one out first. Immediately, we were both very impressed as they offered an array of languages to learn from different people living all over the world. Additionally, each of the language teachers on this site creates their own profiles, pricing, schedules and curriculums. Think of this site as the “Craigslist for Language Teachers“. Or, better yet, the “TaskRabbit for Language Teachers“.
There were many teachers to choose from, but not all of them were considered equal. For example, not every person soliciting their language teaching services was a qualified language teacher. Due to this, we began to carefully review each potential candidate before considering to move forward. Some of the teachers had introductory videos on their profile so that you can hear them tell you about themselves and begin to get a feel of whether or not they will be the right fit for your needs. What’s more, Verbling allows you to take one, 30-minute FREE trial class with a potential teacher before committing to taking classes with them. Myself and Monish really loved this feature as it allowed us to “try before we buy”.
We came across Beena, a Hindi teacher with over 25 years of teaching experience, 20 of which being in one of the more reputed schools in India. Her profile was filled out completely and was very impressive! Verbling keeps track of “teacher stats” and she had a 5-star average rating received from her 15+ students at the time. She even had a super cute introductory video that sold us on the idea of her becoming my Hindi teacher!
The next step was to sign myself up for a trial lesson, during which I would be able to discuss my goals, my preferred learning styles and what I expect from classes, along with the capability to ask Beena any further questions I had. To my surprise, Beena had plenty of her own questions for me, beginning with, “why are you learning Hindi?” When I told her that I chose to learn Hindi because of Monish, she asked if she could speak to him (he was standing around the corner, eaves-dropping at this moment ?). I brought him on-screen and she began to compliment me to him in Hindi, then ask a little about his background so she could better understand how she could best assist my learning process. So sweet!
Because I’d already been teaching myself some Hindi, Beena listed me as an Upper Beginner (A2 on the CEFR scale) from the get-go. She was super impressed at how much I’d already learned and told me that she’d have to adjust her teaching plan a little bit as I was “different than her other students”, who she typically has to teach from the ground up. We started out by scheduling 2 classes per week with the eventual goal to shift down to one class per week, so as long as I was practicing on my own time outside of class. One additional thing to note – I live in the United States and Beena lives in India, therefore finding timeslots on her schedule that would work with mine was a little difficult in the beginning. Although, I really liked Beena and I was determined to continue learning Hindi, so I found a way to make it work!
Now, over a year and a half later, I have completed 75+ Hindi lessons with Beena and have improved from an A2 (Upper Beginner) to a B1 (Intermediate Level) on the CEFR scale. An added perk of using Verbling is that they have printable certificates that showcase both your level and how many hours you’ve spent learning the language with your teacher! See the photo below to check out how they look. ?
From the very beginning, Beena has been the perfect match for me as she is very sweet, encouraging and enjoys laughing at my mistakes along side me. I truly enjoy learning Hindi and seeing Monish’s reactions when I say something new to him that I learned in class. Additionally, learning this language has helped to break down barriers when traveling to India, most importantly when visiting some of Monish’s non-English-speaking relatives. Additionally, I feel like such a badass when I unexpectedly start speaking Hindi, as most people automatically assume that I don’t speak the language. I’m very excited to continue this journey and to one day soon reach fluency! I hope that reading about my journey will inspire you to begin yours, and that you’ll find some of the tools that I used useful for your own language learning journey. ?