Learning Hindi at Notre Dame

Author: Charlene Dundek

Namaste!

That’s how you say “Hello!” in Hindi. Hindi is the fourth most commonly spoken language in the globe, but is not commonly taught in American schools and universities. The CSLC is proud to offer classes in this less commonly taught language and is excited to be hosting a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in Hindi for the 2015-2016 school year.

Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) are languages that, even though they are not widely taught or studied in American universities, are important for academics, national interest, and international travel. According to the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL), 91% of students who study a foreign language in American schools and universities study French, German, Italian, or Spanish. However, studying LCTLs provide opportunities to connect with huge areas of the globe and understand important cultures.

Notre Dame offers many LCTLs (such as Arabic, Russian, etc.), but in the spring of 2014 an undergraduate expressed the desire to learn Hindi. According to CSLC Acting Director Denise Ayo, the CSLC was able to purchase textbooks and find an instructor for the student and others who expressed interest in the language. Continued student interest in learning Hindi led the CSLC to apply for a visiting Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) in Hindi for the 2015-2016 school year.

Notre Dame is excited to be hosting Suman Rani, the Hindi FLTA for this school year. She is originally from Punjab in the northern part of India and has lived in southern India for the last decade. She specializes in second language teaching and has spent the last few years researching the field. There are only 13 other Fulbright FLTAs teaching Hindi in the country for this school year. Most of their host institutions have full Hindi language departments complete with resources, while Notre Dame’s program is still nascent.                                                                                                                                                            

Suman Rani, Hindi FLTA

 Suman Rani, Hindi FLTA. Rani also teaches at Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy in South Bend.

Notre Dame has an intimate core of students dedicated to the language. Students in Rani’s class range from freshmen to graduate students, and they have a variety of reasons for wanting to learn Hindi: to communicate with family members, to supplement historical study of India, to learn the alphabet, and to gain a better understanding of India and its culture. Senior Victoria Sluka, who is studying Anthropology, said that it’s important that Notre Dame offers a class like this because “Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and India is emerging as a major global economic power. It’s important that students be learning this language.” The class focuses on teaching the Devanagari script, vocabulary, and grammar. The Hindi Language Table focuses more on the cultures and religions of India.

The goal of the class, according to Rani, is to “acquaint learners with new language they can actually use.” The language is useful if students are interested in the culture, if it’s related to their studies, and especially if they plan on doing research in India. “You connect better with people,” Rani says, and connections with local people are essential for fully understanding a culture and a history. There are a lot of resources available in English and the majority of Indian people speak English, but true connections are formed (and more complete research conducted) when the Hindi language is spoken. “Some things are there that cannot be translated into English,” Rani says.

As a visiting scholar, Rani’s favorite aspect of teaching Hindi at Notre Dame is watching her students learn. She is happy, she says, “when I see my students develop.” She likes to have students who are curious, show active interest, and ask lots of questions. Her favorite moment from last semester was when one of her students was able to write a creative and funny story in Hindi for an exam.

The CSLC recognizes the importance of fostering language learning, especially LCTL learning. Ayo says that, “We have amazing language programs [at Notre Dame], but they can’t feasibly teach all the languages that ND students might want/need.  Hindi is a good example. Swahili is another. This is where the CSLC comes in. Our mission is to serve all the language needs on campus. Most of the time this comes in the form of supporting the existing language programs. Occasionally, however, a student identifies a LCTL, like Hindi, as imperative for their future career, and we want to be there for these students as well. Notre Dame is in the business of creating global citizens, and there are roughly 6,500 spoken languages on this globe.”