Hindi has been taught as a foreign language across the universities in the U.S. since the 1980s. Among many languages, Hindi is now also available to be studied as part of completing the language requirement for the BA or higher degrees in about 15 American universities and colleges.

I am among the new generation of younger Indian Americans working in the area of Hindi teaching and development in the U.S.

Having come at the age of 13 to the U.S. and not as an adult, I had the choice of being in other professions favored by Indians and Indian Americans such as being a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer, but I had a desire to be a trailblazer for the new generation and set an example in the field of education. I felt that the teaching of Hindi in America was my calling.

All languages are beautiful, part of the human heritage and deserve to be treated with respect, love and honor. Similarly, the beauty of Hindi has to be appreciated and Hindi deserves the same respect as one might accord to English or other European languages.

After attending high school in midtown Manhattan in New York City, I earned my bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, Columbia University and graduate degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University. While studying at Columbia, I met Prof. Susham Bedi and became her student.

Since 2005, I have been teaching Hindi at various well-known institutions. I was a Hindi lecturer at Columbia University and UC Berkeley; an assistant professor of Hindi at the U.S. Department of Defense where I taught students that were members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines; and now I am a Hindi lecturer at Stanford University, one of most prestigious and highest-ranking universities in the world.

I teach first, second and third year of Hindi to undergraduate, graduate, non-Indian and heritage Indian American students. In my classes, I teach all Hindi skills—speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, and culture. I use a variety of resources such as Hindi stories and literature, Bollywood songs, short and full-length feature films, collaborative and individual activities, festival celebrations and field trips. In fact, I have written two textbooks designed especially to meet the needs of new adult learners of Hindi outside India. One is Practice Makes Perfect: Basic Hindi(McGraw Hill, 2012) and the other has been recently published in July 2019 by Setu publishing called Basic Hindi 2 Workbook. I am currently working on a third textbook on Hindi stories designed for new adult language learners (will be published in 2020).

In my classes, one can find students from many majors such as Computer Science, Product Design, Philosophy, Political Science, History, or Math. Similarly, there is diversity within the Indian heritage in the classes, with students hailing from many different states in India. Heritage students that come from Indian American families take Hindi to better understand their heritage, Bollywood, relatives in India who don’t speak English, or to have a deeper experience with their ancestral land. Non-Indian students take Hindi because of their personal or research interests in India’s politics, economy, religions, film, spirituality, food and culture.

It is worth noting that engaging with Hindi gives students opportunities to consider new and unique ways of thinking and expression that is very different, visit India in a more meaningful way, and know a civilization and culture that has a rich history. For Indian American students, it is also a place to learn more about their identity and feel a sense of belonging.

In addition to teaching, I have written articles for magazines here and in India, done translations and regularly attended national and local conferences that give special knowledge on how to teach a second language to adult learners. I have also worked on teams to prepare important city, state and federal exams in Hindi. For example, I worked on a team to prepare the first ever Hindi teacher certification exam for the state of California that qualifies K-12 teachers of Hindi to teach in public schools. I have also worked on a team to prepare the regents exam for the City of New York that helps high school students who know Hindi. I’m also active in the Silicon Valley and have worked on the Hindi language of Siri and iTunes.

Sonia Taneja

Via E-mail

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