How Long Does It Take To Learn The Hindi Language? (By Yourself, From Your Couch)

The Hindi language is one of the primary languages of India. It’s also one of the most spoken languages on the planet with 270 million native speakers. The Language belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language tree. This means that Hindi is actually related to English, although very remotely.

Hindi is not as difficult to learn as languages such as Korean and Arabic, but it’s not done in a weekend either. If you were to study around 1 hour a day, becoming fluent in Hindi could take about 3 years or more. But it’s possible to get there faster as well. Or it could take a very long time.

In reality, a lot of different factors go into answering this question. It depends not only on the Hindi language and your study method, it also depends on you.

In this article I’ll try getting into some of those factors!

Your Background, The Languages You Speak And Your Education All Play A Role In How Long It Takes To Learn Hindi

Yes, first an foremost, it’s about you. Who are you, where are you from, what do you do? This might, perhaps, sound like your first meeting with the in-laws, but in fact these are important questions to ask when considering how long it’ll take you to learn Hindi.

If you’re an English-speaking American who just knows English, you just won’t be in the same situation as a Bangladeshi who speaks Tamil, English and Thai as well. The more exotic Hindi is to you, the longer it’ll take you to get it under your skin. And for monolingual Americans, Hindi just might be very exotic.

If you know one or two other languages, though, your mind is already open for the possibility of other languages. This might sound strange, but people who only speak one language just have a much harder time adjusting to foreign languages. Why do they have to say it that way? Or why can’t they just say it with the same word order as in English? These are questions that monolinguals learning their first foreign language often ask.

So you don’t have to be fluent in a language related to Hindi, like Bengali, to have an advantage. Dutch or Swahili too, will be an advantage.

And then there’s your educational background. I’m not talking about “whether you studied linguistics or not”. This is more a question of being used to study at all. People who have experience with keeping a schedule and a study routine, taking notes and memorizing new material will have an advantage over those who don’t. It’s quite simple actually.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t learn Hindi if you didn’t do well in physics class. Sure you can, it’s just likely that someone with a more academic background will be a few steps ahead.

How Long Does It Take To Learn The Hindi Devanagari Alphabet? (It’s Faster Than You Think)

When considering learning the Hindi language, a lot of people immediately find themselves put off by the sight of the Hindi alphabet, Devanagari.

While it’s very beautiful and exotic looking to most new learners, it’s also something that puts off a lot of beginners and sometimes even makes them decide not to study Hindi. They simply think it’s too difficult.

This is such a shame. Deciding not to learn Hindi because of the alphabet is like deciding not to climb a mountain because you need to pass by a small hill to get there.

The Devanagari is not an extensive writing system like Chinese with thousands of unique characters. Nor does it, like Arabic, exclude vowels, making pronunciation hard to figure out. The Hindi alphabet is simply a set of letters corresponding to a set of sounds. When you learn them by heart, you can read and write in Hindi.

The Hindi alphabet can be learned in under two weeks! (I’ve written an article on How To Learn The Hindi Alphabet, that you might find useful).

Think about it: When you learn a new language, you need to learn several thousands of words by heart in order to speak it fluently. It’s very possible, and not very difficult if only you give it time. But still, a few thousand seems like a lot! To learn the Hindi alphabet, you simply need to learn 48 letters.

48, that’s it.

So, in short: The Hindi alphabet is not one of the factors that will seriously slow you down when learning Hindi

Hindi Grammar Isn’t The Worst, But It’s Different

The Hindi language is quite different from English. Different, however, is not the same as difficult, and Hindi grammar is actually not that bad.

The cases in Hindi are significantly easier than it’s the case with Slavic languages like Russian or Polish.

Hindi also has genders, like in French where some nouns are feminine and others are masculine, which affects how, for example, adjectives are used. In Hindi, however, the gender can be easily figured out only from looking at word endings, so there’s no mystery.

Hindi also has no articles. There are no “The” and “A” in Hindi, meaning that a sentence will be simpler to construct. It might, however, take a little more getting used to!

The same can be said for prepositions. Hindi has none; But it has postpositions. A postposition comes after the noun whereas a preposition comes before. You’d say something like “get the car inside” instead of “get inside the car”. Except that there are no articles, so really it would be “get car inside”.

So no, Hindi grammar is not that difficult. But it’s different, and even though you won’t have any huge difficulties in understanding how Hindi grammar works, it’ll take some time getting used to.

The Pronunciation of Hindi Is Not That Bad, But It’ll Add To The Total Time

Hindi has 48 different letters which is almost twice as many as in English. The main reason for this is that most consonants in Hindi have two variants. An aspirated version and an unaspirated version.

So what’s the difference between aspirated and unaspirated consonants? Aspirated consonants are pronounced with a small puff of air coming out of your mouth. Unaspirated consonants are pronounced without this puff of air, or with very little air.

We have the same sounds in English even though we don’t distinguish between them. Try holding your hand in front of your mouth and say the two word “school” and “cake”. Notice that the k-sound in “school” has no puff of air whereas “cake” does. “School” is pronounced with an unaspirated consonants whereas “cake” is pronounced aspirated.

All in all: Hindi pronunciation is not that hard to learn, but since you’ll have to focus on certain slight differences, it might take a little longer to get it right.

On the plus side, however, the Hindi alphabet is phonetic. This means that everything you read in Hindi will be pronounced exactly the way it is spelled. This is much easier than in English, where pronunciation can sometimes be completely different from the spelling.

Hindi Vocabulary Is Exotic, And You’ll Need To Focus On Each Word To Memorize It

Hindi vocabulary might take some time simply due to the fact that it bears no resemblance to English.

If you were to learn Spanish, German or French, much of the vocabulary would sort of make sense. The word “house” is “casa” in Spanish. You’d quickly be able to make the association of a house being a “little case that you live in”. In German, it’s “Haus”, which needs no explanation, and in French it’s “maison” which will remind you of masonry, the act of building houses.

In Hindi, the word for “house” is “makan” (मकान).

It’s not a difficult word to pronounce, and it’s neither long, nor complicated. But it’s different. It most likely doesn’t remind you of anything, and this simple fact will mean that it’ll take you longer to learn it and get used to it.

In Hindi, you’ll need to be reminded of new vocabulary a lot more often in order for them to finally stick. You’ll probably be able to benefit from thinking about some associations, using mnemonic techniques or writing notes, but all of these activities will mean that learning vocabulary will take a lot longer.

I’ve written an article about “How To Remember Words” where I get into a few of these techniques.

How Long Linguists Say It Takes To Learn Hindi

The Foreign Service Institute is an American government institution that teaches foreign languages to US diplomats and envoys. They teach a significant number of languages and have decades of experience on the matter.

In order to plan out their intensive teaching programs, they’ve grouped all the languages that they teach into four categories based on how long they estimate that it’ll take an average English speaker to learn the language to a level of “high working proficiency”.

While the FSI’s estimates are based on an intensive classroom learning setting, and you’re most likely studying Hindi in another way, the number is still useful in comparing the time it takes to learn Hindi to other languages.

The first group if for category 1 languages. These are the languages that are relatively close to English, such as Danish, Dutch and Norwegian, but also languages of the Romance language family, such as French and Spanish. These all take around 5-600 classroom hours to learn to fluency according to FSI.

The Second group is for languages that are either slightly more complicated or just a little more exotic. Here we find Indonesian, Swahili, but also German. These languages, according to FSI, take around 900 classroom hours to learn.

In the Third group, which is where we find Hindi, we’ll also see such languages as Thai, Russian and Hungarian. This category is for languages that are quite different for an English speaker and that requires a little more time. At 1100 classroom hours needed, these take almost twice as long as a language such as French.

And finally, the fourth group comprises Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Japanese. These languages take a long time. In fact, the FSI estimates that they’ll take 2200 classroom hours for an average English speaker in order to reach a high level of fluency.

But let’s get back to Hindi: Hindi is in the third category which FSI says takes 1100 classroom hours. It shares its category with Russian and Thai (and a lot of other languages) but I’d actually argue that Hindi might be a little easier to learn than these two languages. Let’s keep that in mind.

How Long It Takes To Learn Hindi: A Few Cases

The 1100 hours that the FSI estimates that it takes to learn Hindi should probably be taken with a grain of salt. I assume that you are a self-student, which means that your study process is hard to compare to the FSI classroom setting.

FSI’s numbers are also based on the assumption that the study process is very well planned, adapted to each learner and very consistent.

And then there’s the question of the level of Hindi that you aim for. FSI has a goal of “High working proficiency” which is a very high level of fluency. Your goals may not be the same, and most learners would be satisfied with a little less, meaning that you can save some time. Let’s aim for the lower advanced level.

But all of these factors (including all of the previous points mentioned in this article) make it very difficult to say exactly how long it will take you to learn Hindi. I will, however try listing a few scenarios below.

  • A learner who knows what he or she is doing and who consistently studies an hour a day: If this is you and you’re gradually adapting your learning methods to fit your level in the best possible way, you can reach a lower advanced level of Hindi in about 2 years.
  • Someone who is putting in the work, but who’s trying a few learning methods out along the way and studies an hour on most days: If you’re a little unsure about how to go about learning Hindi, but you’re still studying on most days, you can get to the lower advanced level of Hindi in 3 or perhaps 4 years.
  • A less consistent learner who keeps coming back to studying Hindi after short pauses: If you’re in a situation where you take breaks of several days now and again, and if you’re not studying in a varied and adapted way that fits you, you might be in for a longer run. Inconsistency is one of the biggest pitfalls in language learning, and depending on how long you’re away from your studies, you might need to spend your study sessions reviewing rather than learning new material. If this is you, it might take you as long as 6-8 years to learn Hindi.
  • A learner that lacks motivation and consistency and has long hiatuses from studying Hindi and who has an inefficient approach: In this case, getting to a lower advanced level of Hindi is not very likely at all. If you keep eventually coming back to studying the Hindi language, you might have reasonable results in a decade or more, but people in this situation are much more likely to eventually give up and never learn Hindi. People who do end up fluent, usually do so because they’ve changed their study routine.

The Most Important Variable: You

In the end: Learning Hindi comes down to one factor that’s even more important than everything else mentioned:

You.

Are you motivated enough to sticking with studying the Hindi language every day for months and years before getting a glimpse of your goal?

Will you put in the work each and every day and consistently keep studying?

Learning Hindi takes dedication and patience. Most people end up giving up before reaching their goals, so it’s important to know what to expect before getting started. Now you have an idea.

On the other hand, finally getting to the point where you realize that you’ve now become fluent in the Hindi language is worth all of these efforts.

So if you’re ready, start learning Hindi today!

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