question about learning Hindi

#1 Oct 15th, 2008, 19:21
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  • carlaeb is offline
#1
I'm not sure what sort of advice or commiseration I'm looking for, but here is the problem.

I've been studying Hindi for about a week now and am making rapid progress- much faster than when I studied other languages- in terms of learning words, understanding the grammar and being able to understand when people speak to me. (I've been listening to Hindi for years without any attempt to understand it, so maybe somehow it slipped into my brain a little).

The problem is that I can't distinguish AT ALL between many of the sounds. The different B's for example, or Ch's or K's or G's, etc. I know it has to do with the placement of the words in your throat, but I don't understand what that means. So my first question is, has anyone struggled with making these sounds and if so, how did you succeed? For example, the word for okra (lady finger) and the word for the dot on the woman's head both sound exactly the same to me. I can't distinguish between them at all. There are a million examples like this.

Second, did you find that people had an abnormal amount of trouble with your accent? It could be that my Hindi accent is just terrible (it's only been a week!) but I get the feeling that the people I'm listening to have simply never heard a Westerner speak Hindi. My Spanish accent was terrible at first too, but people could understand me- they were used to hearing gringos destroy their language! Here, people can't understand me at all, even when I'm speaking in context. It's like they've never had to listen to someone speak Hindi with an accent. Anyone else experience this?

I don't know a soul from the West who has learned a Indian language. I'm not sure what is a part of the learning curve and what is just my experience.
#2 Oct 15th, 2008, 22:21
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  • wonderwomanusa is offline
#2
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Second, did you find that people had an abnormal amount of trouble with your accent? It could be that my Hindi accent is just terrible (it's only been a week!) but I get the feeling that the people I'm listening to have simply never heard a Westerner speak Hindi.
I have seen this happen with other Asian languages; people just can't get past hearing that language come out of your foreign face, and kind of tune it out...

I've seen people here in California sit next to an Asian person on the bus, and ask if they speak English -- and we have a huge native-born Asian population. It's the same kind of thing.

Good luck with the Hindi studies!
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#3 Oct 15th, 2008, 22:56
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  • edwardseco is offline
#3
If its any consolation years of study on fellowship and I never mastered a particular kind of T in Hindi. My experience indicates just use the language in any kacha fashion. People are really happy that you try and will make allowances for the rest..
#4 Oct 15th, 2008, 23:22
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  • Nick-H is offline
#4
I have had problems with Ps, Bs, and Ts in English for years, and as I am now mistaking not just the hard sounds, but between hard and soft sounds (an offer of tea was mistaken as a suggestion we visit the sea yesterday) I guess I really should visit the ENT man.

But even before my hearing got worse, I could hear no difference between the various "K" sounds in Malayalam, which I understand are a similar system to Hindi.

There's lots of Westerners do master an Indian language, and I've come across several who make themselves understood in Tamil.

Tamil sounds like a jumble of sound to the Western ear, with no obvious word divisions, and even sentences starting and ending god-knows-where. Hindi, on the other hand, seems to make more sense, its rhythms more easy to pick up on. Once one goes beneath that scratching the surface, though, I think it holds far more challenge to the Western tongue in terms of sounds and pronunciation than Tamil.

Congratulations on your success so far. Despite living here, I remain a monoglot.
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#5 Oct 16th, 2008, 10:17
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  • Cardamom is offline
#5
I agree with wonderwoman on this - when I was living in sweden and speaking swedish I got the strangest looks all the time. I think it was mostly that folks were not used to hearing swedish with a yankee accent. But just keep at it and people will get used to you and you'll get even better. It sounds like you're doing really well - soaking up all the background hindi you've heard for so long

I also have a hard time with the bhindi/bindi example you gave. Also, there were some other i used to ask my Hindi teacher to go over - like for roti (the food) and then a similar sounding word which which was a tense for the verb "to cry" Maybe try learning as many words as possible that are difficult to 'hear' and then within the context of the sentence it will make more sense?

I know from child psychology that there is a prime time to learn language and how to perceive certain sounds (like the "shi" sound in mandarin). We did an experiment in our class and none of the adults who did not learn the language as a child could hear the difference, but those raised learning the language could explain in depth how the sounds were different. It was fascinating.

Best of luck and do keep us posted!!
-C
#6 Oct 17th, 2008, 00:27
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#6
Thank you all. Since posting this, a nice thing happened. A rickshaw driver understood me and practiced with me the whole way home. He was very charming and patient. All we said were things like "Are you a boy?" "No, I'm not a boy. I'm a woman." "Are you a doctor?" "No, I'm not a doctor. I'm a teacher." Then he taught me some new things that I promptly forgot, but it was really sweet because it was my first experience talking to an Indian I don't already know in Hindi and it was positive.

I'm realizing that I don't think I've ever met an Indian who speaks fewer than three languages. Is this the normal, or are the Indians I know all just really smart? It leaves me feeling so... American.

Wonderwoman, thanks for saying that. It's such a shame (especially in diverse places) when people make assumptions like that.

Cardamon, that language learning study is fascinating! Yes it is amazing to me that some people can hear some sounds and others can't. I have a similar story, but it is less dramatic. In parts of Texas, including where I'm from, we tend to not distinguish between the i and e in words like "pin" and "pen" or "Gin" and "Jen". I was 20 before I knew there was a difference. I can hear the difference now because it was pointed out to me, but I had never noticed it before.

Nick, can you hear the difference? Is your "problem" a physical issue- a lisp or something? Or is this common in parts of the UK? Never heard anything like that, but glad to hear you have a sense of humor about it.
#7 Oct 17th, 2008, 00:28
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  • carlaeb is offline
#7
Oops. I accidentally double posted.
#8 Oct 17th, 2008, 02:16
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  • felonious_monk is offline
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carlaeb, the problem you are having appears to mostly be related to the inability to distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated consonants. "Aspirated" means a strong burst of air is forced out of your mouth while pronouncing the consonant. The easiest way to check is to speak in front of a candle flame in a draft free room. With an aspirated consonant the flame will flicker.
Take the English P & B for instance. The English P is slightly aspirated while the B is not. The Hindi labial consonants are pa,pha, ba, bha where pha and bha are aspirated. The English P is closer to pha while most Indians use the pa for P, so you might confuse the P of an Indian English speaker for a B.
The dot is a bindi(ba) while okra is a bhindi(bha). The difference is not in the throat but how forcefully you push air out of your lips.
If this is all clear as mud you will understand why I am a code monkey and not a language teacher.
#9 Oct 17th, 2008, 02:31
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  • Haylo is offline
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Originally Posted by felonious_monk View Post If this is all clear as mud you will understand why I am a code monkey and not a language teacher.
That explanation is perfectly clear, maybe you should change careers!

I don't find Hindi that hard to listen to and distinguish, but I've recently been trying to teach myself with very poor results; unlike French Spanish or German I find that Hindi words and phrases simply won't stick in my memory.

It's probably because I'm so isolated from it back here in England, I've even considered phoning everyone I know in Delhi and saying "Speak Hindi to me, dammit!"
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#10 Oct 17th, 2008, 03:39
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  • PeakXV is offline
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Originally Posted by edwardseco View Post If its any consolation years of study on fellowship and I never mastered a particular kind of T in Hindi. My experience indicates just use the language in any kacha fashion. People are really happy that you try and will make allowances for the rest..

This is the best tip. Just wing it baby. A child when learning to speak doesn't care if they say things poorly or unclearly or that it is indeed 50% babble, 50% speak - they just blurt it out and learn quickly from this ongoing oral process. Often in India a driver or attendant will not fully understand my english directives but will quickly
'reason' my hindi even if it is well off the mark(almost always) - pronounciation, tense, and/or gender wise.
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#11 Oct 17th, 2008, 04:05
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  • DesiKurdi is offline
#11

Cardamom and Carlaeb

I also have a hard time with the bhindi/bindi example you gave. Also, there were some other i used to ask my Hindi teacher to go over - like for roti (the food) and then a similar sounding word which which was a tense for the verb "to cry" Maybe try learning as many words as possible that are difficult to 'hear' and then within the context of the sentence it will make more sense?

Hi guys. Bindi is pronounced as "Bin-thee" (Bin-as in Bin Laden)(Thee-as in, I dub THEE the next king) but just one syllable and bhindi is pronounced as "Bheeen-dhi" (Bheeen-as in, "Pork and BEAN" except with an H to make a "BH" sound) (Dhi-as in "Duh!" except with an I).

Im not even going to try with roti and the other word. I speak both languages fluently and I cant think of any english work that contains the same sound as you would make to say the word roti. Maybe thats why youre having a hard time? Its like trying to speak if you were deaf. Not saying its impossible because they have schools that teach deaf people how to speak. I'm just saying that its not an easy task.
#12 Oct 17th, 2008, 05:12
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  • wonderwomanusa is offline
#12
Carla, one other suggestion for learning more Hindi: do you know any children? They will teach you vocabulary and simple verb forms.

I learned Dutch while babysitting with a friend's kid -- he was totally into helping Auntie learn to talk with him! And he was easy to understand because he, too, was learning Dutch. (He was two).
#13 Oct 17th, 2008, 06:54
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I speak fluent-ish kannada since childhood having grown up in the west for my whole life but what I've found is there are a few words/letters/sounds that just sound completely wrong coming from my mouth, sometimes leading to different meanings. No matter how many times i've tried I just can't get it right. There is a word meaning "say it.." which if one part of the word is not pronounced correctly means poo! I've seen a lot of people having similar problems with words from various Indian languages. There will be some sounds that just don't exist in english or aren't used all that regularly anyway so it'll take some getting used to.
#14 Oct 17th, 2008, 12:36
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  • carlaeb is offline
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Originally Posted by felonious_monk View Post The difference is not in the throat but how forcefully you push air out of your lips.
If this is all clear as mud you will understand why I am a code monkey and not a language teacher.
You are exactly right! I did not realize that. Now I have the words I need to do a Google search (aspirated, unaspirated). Wonder why my book doesn't explain this so clearly? Thanks so much!

Quote:
Originally Posted by DesiKurdi View Post Hi guys. Bindi is pronounced as "Bin-thee" (Bin-as in Bin Laden)(Thee-as in, I dub THEE the next king) but just one syllable and bhindi is pronounced as "Bheeen-dhi" (Bheeen-as in, "Pork and BEAN" except with an H to make a "BH" sound) (Dhi-as in "Duh!" except with an I).
My mother-in-law and my husband tried to explain it this way too. The problem is that when I say "thee" it sounds absolutely nothing like when they say the "di" of bindi. I don't know if the Indian English pronunciation of this word is different than the American or not. It was a very confusing conversation. Also, fascinating that you gave similar advise with the Ps and Bs as they did. Are you a native Hindi speaker- I mean, did you learn that language since you were a child? I'm asking because my husband (who also speaks both languages fluently, he has exceptional English and Hindi, no problems at all, much like you I gather) my husband also gave these examples- different Bs and Ps in English words that (to him) sound like in Hindi. But to me, the D in "duh" is the exact same D as in every other English word- donkey duck delivery darn- they are all the same D. What changes is the vowel, but not the D. My husband couldn't understand this. To him, there are different Ds even in American English and he gave lots of examples (although none as dramatically different as in Hindi).

So then I got side-tracked into thinking there must be a range of sounds that native Hindi speakers can hear that we simple cannot hear. Maybe even in our own language. But this sounded too goofy to be true. I must be misunderstanding something. I dismissed my husband as nuts and posted on here for help instead.

Then, lo-and-behold, your post says the same thing. Now I'm mystified.
Or maybe just confused?

Anyway, I think I need to not think about it so hard and just talk.

Edit-
oops, I type too fast.
Last edited by Dilliwala; Oct 21st, 2008 at 04:55.. Reason: merge posts
#15 Oct 17th, 2008, 13:16
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  • felonious_monk is offline
#15
Since you are a Texan you might find Spanish analogs much easier to deal with, and they are much more accurate. Indians pronounce thee on the palate and not on (or close to) the teeth, so it sounds like di in Spanish dinero. As you have already noted, varied accents cause massive confusion in this matter. If your husband is Indian he is possibly giving you examples of American words with Indian pronunciation.
The soft Hindi D(bindi) is exactly like the Mexican-Spanish D, likewise with the soft Indian T(tumhara/yours). The Hard D and T in Hindi are considerably harder than the English ones and the only English hard T sound is aspirated.
Another thing to watch out for is retroflexion i.e your tongue curling up to the palate. The hard Hindi T & D contact your palate at the point it starts to steeply curve upward, not closer to the teeth as in English.
Last edited by felonious_monk; Oct 17th, 2008 at 15:51.. Reason: lots of little mistakes

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