Whether you’re a native speaker passing Hindi on to your own kids, or a novice who wants to encourage children to understand the language spoken by hundreds of millions of people, here are my five top tips for teaching kids Hindi:
Make it silly. Make it fun.
I encourage my kids to make mistakes, laugh, and use silly words because it makes learning Hindi feel like a game full of creativity and laughter.
My son remembers the word for rice – chaaval – because he also remembers the word for crazy – paagal. Paagal chaaval: crazy rice.
They also love Hindi homonyms, like gora ghora (white horse), andha anda (blind egg)… and kheera keera (cucumber bug – whatever that is!) We came up with a new one recently, akela kela (lonely banana).
Other silly, fun words include: gudgudi (tickling), ulta-pulta (upside down) and jaadu-giri (magic).
Make it easy – for you and your kids.
Have the right resources to hand and incorporate Hindi into each day – it takes just 10 minutes!
Make it a bedtime routine
Grab a story. There are beautiful bilingual books for young children: Meri Bindi is one I created for my own children and there are others available from TokaBox and BhashaKids.
If you don’t read Hindi script, look for books that include Hindi transliterations – Hindi words written in the English alphabet – otherwise you won’t have any way to read the Hindi words, which slightly defeats the purpose.
Use a digital distraction while you WFH
When my kids started on the Shoonya app, they were enticed by the gorgeous peacock feathers, each adorned with a different Hindi letter. They loved dressing up the wild animals and tracing letters in colorful chalks. The games are irresistible and each one teaches them a new word, letter or sound. As a parent, I find the app extremely authentic, including the voiceovers and animations.
Practice Hindi with your community to combat pandemic loneliness
Grab a grandparent, aunt or uncle who speaks Hindi and video call them. Or get them to send you a video telling a story — of you as a kid or of them as kids. Let your children hear the story, try to understand it, react to it and send a message back in as much Hindi as they can manage. If you don’t speak Hindi yourself, ask the grandparent/aunt/uncle to include an English explanation and see if you can recognise words or phrases.
If you’re lucky enough to have a local Indian community, see if you can visit a community center for a celebration – whether it’s the spring festival of Holi or the winter festival of lights, Diwali, or any of the myriad Hindu festivals in between. These are often religious festivals, but many communities also hold wider cultural events where you can meet other parents with kids who are learning Hindi.
Use simple prompts to get your kids speaking Hindi
(Understanding and speaking are TWO different skills!)
Whether it’s during after-school downtime, chore time, bathtime, homework time, playtime or bedtime, I use the opportunity to get the kids to use practical Hindi words.
“Yeh kya hai?” (What is this?)
I’ll ask this when they’re getting dressed, laying the table, or playing. It’s a great way to reinforce everyday words: kitaab (book), chamachch (spoon), jaraab (sock), joota (shoe), sabun (soap).
Again, if you are also new to Hindi – put homemade or bought flashcards around the house to learn the words with your children and see if you can use the Hindi words more regularly.
Whether it’s a great song or memorable dialogue, there are some fantastic Bollywood films you can pre-screen and consider allowing your slightly older kids (think age 8 onwards) to watch. Our favorites are (I’m giving away my age here):
- Lagaan – about an Indian village cricket team beating the British. It has the added advantage of lush, memorable songs you won’t mind your kids learning
- Taare Zameen Par – about a dyslexic boy struggling at an Indian boarding school until a teacher who understands him comes along – again, lovely, relatable story and fabulous songs.
- Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge – a romantic comedy/drama about a boy and girl from London who fall in love but have to face her stern father who intends to marry her to a boy back in his home village in Punjab. There’s a happy ending and no violence, and the songs are absolute classics – catchy, happy and wonderful.
There are dozens more. If your kids get through these long-ish films, they’re doing well. Alternatively, you can also just play them a huge list of Bollywood songs. Many music videos these days feature transliterated subtitles so anyone – even those who don’t read Hindi script – can sing along! (Don’t forget to polish your dancing too!)
A few weeks in India. A summer class. A family vacation with other native speakers. Even a day where you try to speak only Hindi is a great way to give your children an immersive experience! If you live in the UK, there are also Hindi materials for General Certificate and Secondary Education (GCSE) exams.
So whether you’re a toddler learning first words or a parent in a mixed marriage wanting to pass down the language, there are fun, sociable, sensory Hindi resources out there for everyone. Ab seekho! (Now start learning!)