Learning languages together

English and Hindi getting together led to more than a few fun moments, while learning got better, writes Nimesh Ved
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 23:06 IST
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 23:06 IST

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Some time back, we initiated capacity-building sessions for teachers at our school. These sessions focus on English and Hindi. Ten out of the 15 teachers at the school teach languages; they were the participants. Our school is in peri-urban eastern Uttar Pradesh; these teachers converse in Bhojpuri. 

Today, while it is not easy to pinpoint what has worked and what has not gone right, it is not difficult to discern the positive energy these sessions have or the learning they enable. We experienced more learning and surprises than we bargained for. Looking back and gleaning from the journey is fun.


Together, the 11 of us walked the language path—from magazine articles to poetry, newspaper columns to short stories, textbooks to wordless books. During these proverbial walks, we explored reading and writing in both Hindi and English. We also experimented, reading the packaging of items at school, from pencils to biscuits, or undertaking book reviews jointly.

These sessions slowly evolved from events into a process, a regular and scheduled activity like other actions at the school. Like it often happens during hikes and treks, this walking, albeit with languages, appeared easier before or just after the beginning. And as we delved deeper during the sessions, the difficulties began to sink in. English and Hindi getting together led to more than a few fun moments, and we laughed together. To quote Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ‘It is astonishing how much enjoyment one can get out of a language that one understands imperfectly’.

As the sessions progressed, the importance of appropriate ambience, or mahaul, was underscored. Informality and humour, in generous doses, were crucial. Informality brings ease into the room. Humour that neither depicts anyone in low light nor creates a star in the room is important. These sessions begin and end by playing songs.

The discipline and regularity we brought to these sessions led to an atmosphere of trust and a group spirit. Teachers gained the confidence to open up, accept challenges, move beyond their comfort zones, and discuss mistakes—those committed by them and others. 


Not many people today read willingly, and even fewer write. In all probability, we never had a perfect past where we all enjoyed reading and writing. However, the understanding that reading and writing are skills so distinct from each other was striking. Someone who can speak fluently and for a long time can also struggle to draft a short and coherent email.

Similarly, we can easily talk in one language but are comfortable writing only in another. Even within reading, we can have our comfort zones. I, for example, read fiction and nonfiction in English but connect with poetry only in Hindi. An Arvind Krishna Mehrotra poem does not touch me like Kunwar Narayan’s poem. Language, like with a lot else, comes with its complications!

What appears simple and familiar can be deceptive. On more than a few occasions, I have been tongue-tied when explaining words, including those frequently used. Similar surprises sprang up with spellings as well. Doubting myself and rechecking some words has helped. The crux, as ever, is in the details!

Unless we engage with books, words, sentences, and verse, languages remain distant. I had assumed that teachers were proficient in Hindi, vis-à-vis English, as Hindi was a language they were closer to. Also, the teachers read to keep themselves updated. I forgot that teachers came from the same society we have nurtured, and my assumptions were way off the mark. Assumptions, more often than not, are silly.

Rather than being friends and equals, languages appear to have been structured hierarchically. Bhojpuri, for example, today, is to Hindi what Hindi is to English: an inferior cousin to be looked down upon. This caste system of sorts has left many of us struggling with all three languages. Today, English, Hindi, and Bhojpuri will do well in joining hands and being friends. Their flourishing is dependent on each other. Learning these three and other languages will be good in today’s shrinking and connected world.

To quote Steve Kaufmann, ‘Every language we learn is a door opening up a new world, a new example of our common human creativity.’ Akin to hikes and treks, engaging with languages, learning in a group, and learning Hindi with the help of English and vice versa is a whole new experience.

(The author is a UP-based writer who engages with schools)

Published 06 May 2024, 23:06 IST

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