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Languages for Expats in India

Submitted: September 2013

English is the language of commerce and national and political communication in India. Not really surprising, given the country’s history and the fact that there are a total of 15 official languages. The primary tongue for more than 40% of the population is Hindi. The other official languages are Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi and Sanskrit. Of these, Hindi and Urdu are very closely related, and their variant, Hindustani, is also widely spoken in northern India.

For an English speaking expat, there is no urgent need to learn any of the above as almost everyone in the major cities in India will be able to understand and speak at least a little English. This is not to say that an expat should not take the trouble to learn the basics, if nothing else. The learning process can begin long before arrival in India and a good place to start would be a website such as Linguanaut  https://www.linguanaut.com/english_hindi.htm. The lessons are free and include phrases, numbers, vocabulary and Hindi translations.

An article in the Wall Street Journal ‘Life & Style’ section in July 2013 reported that, while on holiday in India, a father from the USA had hired a Hindi teacher for his son to teach him the basics of the language. Tutor and pupil have weekly sessions via Skype. If no holidays to India a planned prior to moving to the country, another way of finding a tutor is to go to https://www.verbalplanet.com/learn-hindi.asp where a student can choose the time and day of the week for Skype sessions with a tutor they have selected from those offering their services. The tutor will set up a learning plan to enable the student attain the desired level of proficiency.

HindiGuru (https://www.hindiguru.org) has teaching facilities in New Delhi and Gurgaon. The company specialises teaching Hindi to foreigners and offers group tuition as well as one-to-one lessons for individuals and corporate groups. There is also the opportunity to have online lessons and studying could commence via the internet prior to arrival in India and continue in the classroom once the expat is in the country.

Another option to learn Hindi is a residential school in India. ESL, specialising in language study abroad (https://www.esl-languages.com/en/adults/hindi/language-school/india/new-delhi/ilsc-education-group/index.htm) offers Hindi tuition in New Delhi. Pupils will have the opportunity to visit local markets, restaurants and other venues to practise their language skills. Accommodation options during study include hotels and hostels, shared student apartments or living with a host family. However, the average age of a language student at the school is 24 years and a new expatriate may feel that their age makes this type of learning unsuitable for them.

Besides the obvious advantage of being able to converse at least a little in the main local language, learning Hindi will also give insight into custom and culture within India. This can only be a good thing, given that everyone who has ever been to India talks of the culture shock and the assault on the senses that begins the moment someone first arrives in the country. Perhaps by studying the language and gaining an insight into daily life, customs and culture, the new expat has the opportunity to prepare as much as possible for what lies ahead.



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