Is it hard to learn the Hindi language?
- Mille Larsen •7 mins read
Hindi is the fifth most spoken language on the planet. There are 320 million native speakers of this beautiful and exotic language. And then it's not even that exotic. Hindi, like most European languages, belong to the "Indo-European" language family. This means that even though India is far away, it's related to English, French and other languages in Europe.
There are many good reasons to learn Hindi, but whether it be business, personal betterment or Bollywood, you'll probably ask yourself:
Is Hindi a difficult language to learn?
The answer is not that easy to answer. All languages are easy and difficult at the same time. Hindi is relatively different from English. It uses another alphabet and despite it being related, it doesn't remind us a lot of the European languages we're used to hear. Yet children learn Hindi in India without much effort. You can do the same, but you'll need to put in the work!
Does learning the Hindi alphabet make it extra difficult?
When people first consider learning a foreign language like Hindi, one of the first things they look at is the alphabet.
It's no wonder. The alphabet, after all, is the only visual image that most people can think of when they think of a foreign language. Just take Arabic and Chinese and their beautiful calligraphy as examples!
Just because the alphabet looks difficult, doesn't mean that it is, though. It most certainly doesn't make the rest of the language difficult!
When it comes to the Hindi alphabet, or Devanagari as it's really called, it's a question of learning 48 letters. And trust me - this is no big deal!
Learning a language entails learning thousands of words by heart after all, so matching 48 little symbols to their corresponding sounds is not a problem.
If you'd like to learn more about how to learn the Hindi alphabet, go read my article on the subject.
Is Hindi pronunciation difficult?
One of the reasons that Hindi has almost twice as many letters as English is that they have a second consonant for every time a letter is aspirated.
What does this mean? In Hindi, it's important to distinguish between an unaspirated consonant the aspirated counter-part. Aspirated consonants are pronounced while aspiring a little air. Uninspired consonants are - well, not aspired.
Instead than trying to explain it in writing, have a look at this video where the different consonants are compared with the aspirated and unaspirated versions:
Besides from that, it's also important to note that in Hindi, the words are pronounced exactly as they're written!
This can be a great advantage when learning a new language. Imagine having to learn English all over again. How would you know to pronounce words like "thorough, rough, through" and so on?
In Hindi, if only you know how to pronounce the letters, you can read anything. This makes learning words much easier!
What about the Hindi grammar?
The grammar of Hindi is obviously different from that of English and other European languages in many ways, but this doesn't always mean that Hindi is harder.
Like French, Hindi has 2 genders. But unlike French, the genders in Hindi are more or less consistent. Generally, nouns that end with an "I" sound ( ई ) are feminine and those that end with a "aa" sound ( आ ) are masculine.
There are of course exceptions, and for some of those, more complicated rules apply. Still, Hindi genders don't represent a huge challenge for most.
Hindi has cases. Cases are generally mentioned when speaking about languages like German, Latin, Russian and Finnish as examples of some of the most complicated aspects of the languages. With Hindi, however, the cases are simple and straight forward. Nothing to worry about!
Another simplifying aspect of Hindi grammar is that it has no articles like "a" or "the". You might wonder how you can speak precisely in Hindi, then, but Indians seem to manage to make this clear from the context without needing the articles.
And then finally, Hindi does not use prepositions - but here's the twist: It uses postpositions! A postposition basically works the same way, but it's placed after the noun instead of before. So while you say "I'm inside the car" in English, you'd say "I'm the car inside" in Hindi.
Even though these postpositions might seem a little odd, compared with what English-speakers are used to, you quickly get into the habit of using them. It's just a question of word order.
Is Hindi difficult according to linguists?
The FSI or the Foreign Service Institute is the American government institution in charge of teaching US diplomats foreign languages before going overseas. They know a thing or two about teaching languages and are known for their estimates on how long it takes them to teach various languages in intensive courses.
They divide the languages that they teach into four groups. The first one includes languages like French and Dutch. The FSI consider these languages relatively easy for an English speaker to learn, and they estimate that they take around 5-600 classroom hours to master.
FSI's definition of mastery is what they call "Professional working proficiency". So their goal is to make their students fluent and professionally proficient in the time it takes to finish their course.
On the other end of the scale, in category 4, you'll find languages like Arabic, Korean and Chinese. These take a whopping 2200 classroom hours to learn according to FSI.
Hindi is on category 3. This category in which you also find languages like Russian, Turkish and Finnish, takes around 1100 classroom hours to learn. (Again, according to FSI)
FSI's courses are intensive, hardcore, full-time studies with competent teachers and few students. I don't think that self-students should use these time estimates as goals, especially because FSI's idea of "professional working proficiency" might be a little different for what you had in mind when learning Hindi.
But although I think that you should take the time estimates with a grain of salt, you can use them as an indicator for how difficult the language is.
Hindi is about twice as difficult as French, half as difficult as Chinese and about as difficult as Russian.
According to FSI..
What is language difficulty really?
The Hindi language is not an extremely complicated language, but it's different. This means that a lot of people will find it difficult, but I actually think that difficulty is the wrong way of looking at it.
No languages are really difficult if you take the time to learn them through habituation like children do. Some take longer than others, granted, but they're not difficult.
If you don't believe me, think of the way children learn their first language. They're thrown into a world in which they don't know how to communicate. They spend years listening to input they don't understand until they start to mimic - badly. And after thousands of times of being corrected they eventually start getting used to the language.
Adults has the disadvantage of already knowing another language. They have a language to fall back on, when they're out of their comfort zone, and they have the possibility of giving up.
But on the other hand, adults have an intellectual advantage over children when it comes to learning languages.
So to learn Hindi, what's more important that difficulty is patience and consistency.
If you keep studying and you do it every day, you'll eventually become fluent in Hindi. It's not difficult, but you have to keep it up and put in the work. And that's maybe the hard part.
Hindi is not difficult, but staying consistent, patient and motivated can be!
Here's an article I wrote about motivation in language learning.
I hope you found this article helpful! If you have any questions, comments, tips or feedback, don't hesitate to write them in the comments below!