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My route into Hindi was a roundabout one. Everybody finds their own path into language, and for some that path is a textbook. But for most people (an in my opinion anybody who wants to have fun) that is not the beginning and end of it. I absorbed as much Hindi content as I could, long before I understood much of what was being said. For the most part that meant movies. Often the same ones over and over again (if you are inclined to repeat watch it really helps, as you stop focusing on understanding the whole meaning and get a chance to pick up on smaller parts of speech). I owe most of my vocabulary to movies.
I did use a textbook, though, and it would have taken a lot longer to absorb the grammar without it. I still think Rupert Snell’s older Teach Yourself Hindi course is one of the best textbooks I’ve used, and I have a lot of fondness for it. Grammatical points are laid out clearly and structured around genuinely enjoyable dialogues that actually kept me reading the book. It is certainly better than the other Teach Yourself offerings, which take you more slowly to a lower level, but I can’t compare with too many other Hindi textbooks.
To be clear, this post and most of the content on my site is primarily for people who want to build a solid grounding in a language, however patchy it may be depending on your own interests. For people just looking to learn a few phrases so their travels run a bit more smoothly, this phrase book looks promising (but not released until 2019 – others in the series are well-reviewed but I haven’t used any of them). Other than that, though, I think the best resources are online. Why not do some of the other stuff in this post anyway? Nothing to lose in a bit of fun!
Also, this list is absolutely non-exhaustive! The basic point is to find content you like at a level you feel comfortable in – which may or may not be ahead of your actual level. If you have an idea of what that might mean for you then you needn’t read on. If you don’t, then go ahead.
A lot of people are put off watching Hindi movies because of their reputation for all-singing all-dancing drama. For most of the films I watch that’s no exaggeration, but it is not all that India produces! I’ve collected below a few examples of my favourite movies of various styles. As I mentioned above, I’m not suggesting that watching films is a quick way of getting the grammar of a language, but if you are paying attention and willing to rewatch the same films a few times you will definitely pick up a lot – especially in more quotable movies with less varied vocabulary. For that, the cheesier the better! A lot went into my Hindi education but I think most of it was Kal Ho Naa Ho.
Piku – a much more naturalist movie than is typical (with no dance numbers), and a genuinely lovely story about a woman, her father, and his constipation. The difficult but loving family is experienced by the owner of a taxi stand, who has to drive them from Delhi to Kolkata when all of his employees refuse to get in a car with Piku.
Fanaa – a movie that has it all. I have heard Aamir Khan describe it as a masala movie, and it is definitely that, but I found it much calmer than most. It is set largely in Kashmir, and there is a deliberate shift in style between the more colourful scenes set in the capital and much bleaker tones in Kashmir. There is cheeky love story, but that doesn’t form the bulk of the film. I won’t say too much, and I recommend you don’t find anything out. I may be rare in having known nothing about it before I went in but oh boy was that fun.
Kal Ho Naa Ho – for the full on Bollywood drama experience (“Bollywood” is a contentious term and I avoid using it, but I think if it applies anywhere it is here). Again, I would recommend not knowing much going in, but it boils down to a love triangle and a strained family. Shah Rukh Khan’s character is surrounded by a lot of not-so-subtle angel imagery, but very little in the film is trying to be subtle.
Don – there is no hiding the cheese in this one. You could go either for the Shah Rukh Khan remake or the Amitabh Bachchan original, but I’ll admit I have only skim watched the original (so far), so I’m talking about the remake. It is a film about Vijay, the perfect doppelganger of a crime boss who is roped in by the police to infiltrate his gang. Events unfold and 70’s pastiche blends seamfully in with bad Matrix stylings. My guess is that the remake is more entertaining if you have already watched the original, for the comparison (avoiding spoilers is hard!), but it is kind of fun watching it with fresh eyes and having no idea why Kareena Kapoor is dancing like that.
For a beginner there are things like HindiPod 101. I find it difficult to find the right episodes things for my level, but if you enjoy them they can be a good way of getting some input guided. I have little patience for guidance, but there are plenty of people who are much better with authority than I am!
If you’re at an intermediate level then I highly encourage you to search for the Hindi-Urdu flagship.
When you have some basics down you can also go for podcasts made for native speakers. For this you’ve gotta go with what interests you (searching something you’ve google translated is probably more effective than putting “Hindi” in the search bar), and trial and error is key. Since there won’t be subtitles, you will want something with a heavy English component to start you off – they aren’t hard to find, as a lot of the Indian audience is English-speaking.
If you are happy to watch reality TV in your regular day, switching that out to Hindi is a great option for you! I have spent many an hour watching an Indian dance competition with Hrithik Roshan but I’ve forgotten the name! I will come back to this post later with better examples when I find good content with subtitles.
I haven’t spent much time watching Indian soaps outside of hotel rooms in India – probably four full evenings’ worth of viewing. From what I remember, there was a lot of dead air as characters glared at each other, but I definitely encourage you to look into it. If it turns out to be something you’re into then great!
This post needs work, and I’d welcome your help! I have included what has been valuable to me personally – though I have left out the shopping network for shame – but if you have suggestions that I’ve missed that would be accessible for someone at a beginner level (i.e. with subtitles or whatever other help is available) let me know!