MAGGIE CUMMINGS | HINDI-URDU GURU
I OFFER HINDI AND URDU CLASSES AND PRIVATE LESSONS, both in person in Cambridge, Massachusetts and online. Over the last 20 years as a Hindi-Urdu teacher in Washington, DC, New York, and Boston, I’ve developed an extensive curriculum based on authentic materials such as songs, movies, fiction, poetry, online media, and scholarly writing. When needed, I also provide succinct grammatical explanations and charts, and/or grammar-focussed drills.
I choose from among these materials based on student preferences and learning styles, and if you have a particular material you want to study, I will also design lessons around that, using aids such as glossaries, so that the material can be accessible to you at your current level of comprehension. While I have been teaching for quite a few years, at community schools as well as at MIT and Boston University, I more recently completed an M.A. in Hindi-Urdu Foreign Language Pedagogy at Kean University, which has helped me design much more effective communication-oriented lesson plans. Happily, I’ve seen a big difference in how fast my students learn since I got that degree!
I also manage the Boston Hindi-Urdu Speakers and Learners Meetup Group, which has more than 900 members. We arrange social and cultural get-togethers at which we speak Hindi-Urdu, and we occasionally offer lesson Meetups as well. All events cost less than $5, and all proceeds go towards our Meetup expenses. You can join the group here, and if you would like to find others to share your Hindi-Urdu pursuits, you are welcome to organize Meetups through our group for events you are interested in. You can contact me here about that or our Meetup Group.
Many beginners, especially those who are hoping to communicate better with their families in India, are mostly interested in conversation, so we often put our focus there, but for input we still use plenty of authentic materials. For graduate students or researchers who will be working in India, we usually focus on more academic and/or written materials, and often focus on the field they will be researching.
I also try to help my students identify opportunities to practice in the community so they can use Hindi-Urdu outside of class, which greatly speeds up the learning process. I introduce students to various recordings, online resources, learning apps, movies, cultural events, and other resources. We also focus on gaining a solid grasp of grammar, but in the context of communicative practice whenever possible, since this usually yields the best results.
PRIVATE LESSONS OR CLASSES?
Some students prefer the pace and atmosphere of group lessons, in which they can share cultural experiences with classmates, respond to different types of speakers, and gain insights from different people, with their different learning styles and different questions. On the other hand, for those at an intermediate or advanced level, or those who have particular thematic or cultural areas they would like to focus on, then private lessons may be best.
In my Hindi classes, students learn the Hindi (Devanagari) script in the first few weeks, but we don’t spend the majority of our time on it. Learning the script is essential for achieving good pronunciation of Hindi-Urdu sounds that can’t be represented in the Roman script used for English. For example, there are four different “t” sounds in Hindi-Urdu, four different “d” sounds and three different “r” sounds. Without learning the script, students will have a very difficult time differentiating among these sounds that English writing doesn’t have a way to distinguish.
Devanagari is a remarkably logical script; it’s completely phonetic, and with almost no exceptions, there is one letter for each possible sound, and only one possible spelling for each word–so much easier than reading and writing English! After only a few hours, my students can read and write (slowly) in the Hindi script. This opens up a whole world of literacy which allows students to continue learning on their own. Most Hindi reference books and dictionaries use the Hindi script, not to mention newspapers and a lot of the internet. The effort required is minimal, but the benefits of learning the script are huge. Urdu script is a little more challenging, but comes with the same rewards, so it’s just as important to learn it, but we need to pace ourselves a little more slowly with Urdu script.
I don’t use textbooks very much during class, because authentic materials are much more entertaining, and provide the opportunity to learn about culture while you’re learning the language. But students do need a text to refer to when there are questions about grammar, and we do periodically refer to texts during class. We use several different texts, as they all have different strengths, and I provide scans as necessary for your individual class. But it’s a good idea to have a couple books on your shelf for reference. For learning the Hindi script, I recommend Rupert Snell’s Read and Write Hindi Script, and for a grammar reference, Snell and Weightman’s Complete Hindi. An older version of the text is also available online here (called Teach Yourself Hindi–see book 03), but it can be a bit hard to navigate online at times. When purchasing the book, try to get the newer version, because it has a small amount of additional content.
If you’d like a very quick intro to Indian culture, customs, and history, I recommend Culture Shock India. There are some over-generalizations, which I think is unavoidable in this kind of book, but overall, it’s very interesting and helpful. If you’d like a more scholarly recommendation on a more specific topic related to South Asia, please let me know.
I highly recommend Pimsleur Hindi and Pimsleur Urdu audio for fostering confidence in speaking, especially for beginners. Pimsleur is very interactive and allows you to converse (albeit with a recording) and keep your language skills active between classes. It doesn’t take much conscious energy; you can do it while walking, driving, working out, etc., but it will give you a remarkable amount of confidence in basic conversation. If you complete the 60 half-hour lessons, you’ll soon be able to chat in the three tenses, introduce yourself, do some shopping, and make plans for the day, etc. It’s available at some libraries, and I can help hook you up with a copy. Alternatively, you can get temporary access to Pimsleur on their app, which costs about $15 a month. I believe the app may have better sound quality than some of the other formats.
Many of my students right now are also using the Duolingo app, which recently launched a Hindi program. They say it is great for script learning, and those who use it seem to get comfortable with reading and writing quite fast.
Please do contact me if you have any questions on how to get started with Hindi-Urdu or want to discuss a plan for lessons. I look forward to hearing more about your specific interests and what you want to learn.
MORE ABOUT MY BACKGROUND
I first got interested in learning Hindi and Urdu during a college gap year trip to Pakistan, when I went with my best friend to visit her family in Karachi. The entire trip was fascinating, but the most unexpected interactions during my trip were the ones I had with Urdu speakers in which my friend had to translate for me–conversations with the women of a small village, and with the cook who worked in my friend’s grandparents’ house. The people were not what I expected based on my education to that point. Their levity, generosity, lively curiosity, and community spirit made me want to learn more about them, spend more time with them, and tell people at home what they were like.
When I returned to college at Brown University, I enrolled in the Hindi-Urdu course there, eventually majoring in Hindi and South Asian Studies. During my senior year, I studied Hindi on an exchange program at Banaras Hindu University, when I lived with a Hindi-speaking family, worked at Sarada Ashram, and learned to play shehnai (poorly). I also learned a lot of Hindi working in an Indian restaurant after college. It really came together for me there, as I had long shifts during which I had to speak Hindi and walk simultaneously. I guess that’s evidence that communication-focused language study often works the best. After a few years teaching ESL and interning at the Asia Society in New York, I enrolled in a PhD program in the Harvard University Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies.
I didn’t end up completing that degree, but over the years, I continued studying Hindi-Urdu on my own, in reading groups with a Hindi instructor from Johns Hopkins (while I was living in Washington, DC), and a Harvard Sanskrit instructor (while living in Cambridge), and then in fall 2018, as mentioned above, I completed my M.A. in Hindi-Urdu Foreign Language Pedagogy from Kean University.
I’ve taught Hindi-Urdu on and off for many years now. In the 90’s, I taught Hindi at the Language Exchange in Boston; and from 2000-2009, I taught on weekends at the India School in Bethesda, Maryland while I worked as a Program Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution. In 2010, I moved back to Cambridge, where I’ve been teaching Hindi-Urdu since. I was a Lecturer in Hindi-Urdu at B.U. from 2013-1015, and from 2017-1018, taught Hindi at the MIT Tata Center, which sends PhD students in engineering and related fields to India for their research.
With the generous support of Darshan Krishna, the Director of the India School, in 2009 and 2011, I organized educational field trip programs for children in an underfunded Hindi-medium school in Pabsara, India, It was the first time the school had offered field trips, and the first time most of the children had visited nearby Delhi. Those trips have now become a twice-yearly tradition.