I’ve been taking a Hindi class at Ryerson for fun this fall, chosen because it’s different from all the Romance and Slavic I’ve studied and yet still Indo-European, and because I wanted to learn a new writing system. Turns out Devanagari, the abugida – segmental, syllable-oriented writing system – Hindi is written in, has been more challenging to learn than I’d anticipated. Not only are there lots of characters to learn, but there are variations on them depending on, for instance, whether a vowel is syllable-initial or post-consonant, or whether a consonant is part of a cluster. And then there’s the fact that Hindi has a whole plethora of stops in its phonology: not just the simple k, g, t, d, p, b of English, but aspirated versions of each of those – they contrast p and ph, b and bh, whereas in English we tend to lightly aspirate our voiceless stops (p) and never to aspirate the voiced (b) – as well as both dental and retroflex versions of t and d. That’s 16 where English has six – a lot of distinction to wrap my brain around.
Besides working my way through the exercises in my textbook, I’ve been using some iPhone apps to help me learn the writing system. They’re perfect for when you’re commuting, or in line, or not in the mood to pull out pen and paper. Here are four I recommend.
1. Hindi Alphabet Find
This free (ad-supported) game is useful for practicing recognizing characters and linking them to sounds – all without the interference of Latin transliteration. With a few minor variations in gameplay, it is basically a matching game: you see and hear a character and then have to find it on a grid that starts out empty and gets increasingly crowded.
2. iWrite Hindi
This simple app gives you a chart of characters to tap and listen (and view transliteration) and a writing practice tool that shows order of strokes – it will animate the writing for you or you can trace it with your finger. Vowels are free; consonants are a $0.99 upgrade.
3. Learn Hindi Quick
It’s technically meant for learning vocabulary, but I’ve been finding the flashcards in this app useful for practising reading. First you see a word in Devanagari and hear it pronounced, with the option of repeating the audio. You can just browse through like this, or flip each card to see and hear the English translation alongside the Devanagari and transliteration. The app comes with 250 words for free and a pack of 500 more costs $0.99.
4. Learn Hindi – iLang
As with the previous app, this is a vocabulary app that I’m using to practice reading. This one orders vocabulary by categories – animals, building and car to start with – and includes a study list (where you can tap different English words and see and hear the Hindi), memory game, flash cards and series of other quizzes. The only potential downside is you don’t get a Latin transliteration, meaning this app is better once you’re slightly more advanced. Some categories come for free and it’s $3.99 to upgrade to the full version.
Main photo by Arthur on Flickr