Some Musings on Living and Learning in India by Caleb Martin

In Pune, it seems like traffic rules that Americans are familiar with hold no weight: the roads are packed with an extraordinary amount of vehicles, people occasionally drive against the flow traffic, and car horns are sounded non-stop.  Nonetheless, drivers seem comfortable and confident; there never seems to be much confusion on the road.  The traffic in Pune may seem chaotic, but paradoxically, it is a form of organized chaos.  Similarly, language immersion operates through a form of organized chaos because it forwards that being entirely surrounded by a language is the best way to learn.  At first, understanding next to nothing feels terrifying.  As time passes, however, your knowledge grows constantly, making you feel imperturbable, just like the drivers in the hectic traffic.

The teachers at our school are a big part of the immersion process.  They create a diverse learning experience that integrate many different ways of teaching.  We practice Hindi by speaking, writing, listening, and reading, even using it in real-world situations.  For example, my class has taken short trips to a fruit stand nearby our school to practice how to ask questions in Hindi.  Not only do we get to buy ice cream and fruit, but we also get to use new vocabulary in a practical and (deliciously) rewarding way.

Language immersion is not easy.  Moreover, the hardest part of learning a new language for me is taking the initial leap of faith into the unknown.  In order to truly learn a language, it is important to be fully immersed in that language.  For me, forcing myself to order food at stores in Hindi, talking often with my family, and always being prepared to learn in has helped me develop a great amount.  It is easy to remain complacent and only challenge yourself in certain contexts, but it is essential to practice and learn whenever possible.  I have found that I learned the most when I embrace feelings of embarrassment.  I have asked waiters, drivers, and countless other people ridiculous questions accidentally, but I can genuinely say that I have improved my Hindi skills as a result of these experiences.

Learning another language, or even attempting to learn another language, is an extremely powerful process.  Even when someone speaks English, I have noticed that it is still extremely important to speak in Hindi rather than English.  In Hindi, for example, the word ‘ghat’ means a long, winding road on a hill.  By knowing and understanding this, you can much more effectively communicate with another individual about places, experiences and even directions.  The process of learning is also rewarding.  You constantly find the connections between languages, frames of reference for thinking about the world, and reflections of culture in language.

So here are three tips to make your study abroad  the best that it can be:

1. Don’t stress yourself out!  While it may seem imperative to constantly study or review, also recognize that experiencing another culture is just as important learning a language.  If you don’t study one day, don’t stress because you are also here to have exciting new experiences.

2. Remember that everyone learns at a different pace.  It is easy to get in the habit of comparing yourself to others.  At times, it can be frustrating feeling like you are not progressing as quickly as the people around you.  However, be aware that language learning is vastly different for everyone; there is simply no need to feel bad about how you are doing.

3. Be sure to challenge yourself constantly.  It is great to become friends with new people that you have met, but there are times that are better than others to be around them.  Setting boundaries for yourself and others will help you learn the maximum amount of information in the shortest amount of time


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