From Urdu to Hindi, Farsi and Beyond

Anjum Altaf in The South Asian Idea:

Biryani_in_hindi_and_urdu_and_english_tshirt-p235162567083032565qm73_400 As an Urdu speaker, I had always felt it would be simple to learn Hindi and Farsi. The first shares the grammar and much of the essential vocabulary, differing only in script; the second shares the script and a considerable number of words, differing in construction of sentences and manner of speaking. My attempts to transform resolve into results yielded both confirmations and surprises and taught me something about learning, about languages, about our world and about myself.

I had always believed Hindi would be easier to learn than Farsi, but not by much. I felt I could learn Hindi within a month and Farsi within six. My Hindi-speaking friends tried to disabuse me by regularly tossing alien and tough-sounding words in my direction. I kept reminding them that I was fluent in English, yet did not know the meaning of many words. All that implied was the need for a handy dictionary if the context failed to provide sufficient clues. As for Farsi, I did not have any Farsi-speaking friends to guide me in any way.

As it turned out, Hindi did not require any learning. It was simply a question of mastering the mechanics of a different script, associating a particular shape with a particular sound. It took me all of one week in cumulative time using freely available material on the Internet to be able to start reading the BBC Hindi news feed and to write simple sentences without making egregious mistakes. From there on it was just a matter of practice. Thanks to the advances of technology, I didn’t even need a dictionary. All that was required was to cut and paste an unfamiliar Hindi word into the Google translator; it would not only pop back the meaning but spell the word phonetically and verbalize it to eliminate any errors.

On the other hand, Farsi was indeed like learning a new language where method mattered. Without guidance and deceived by the superficial similarities I went off on the wrong track. After nine months I was still struggling, repeatedly memorizing and forgetting the construction of simple sentences let alone mastering the conjugations and the tenses. This, despite investing a few hundred dollars on the highly recommended Rosetta Stone software and working with a much-touted Internet resource.

I take away a number of thoughts from this experience that might be of interest to others.

More here.