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Fun With Words, Hindi Edition

Posted by on October 28, 2014

I love words: learning them, using them, mocking my husband when he misuses them…Which means that my time in India is a smorgasbord of new words to learn–an endless source of intrigue for me and entertainment for those around me.

As I slowly attempt to learn Hindi, what I lack in skill, I make up for in misplaced confidence. In other words, I have no problem practicing my (poor) Hindi whenever the opportunity arises. Which, apparently, is every day.

Throughout church I picked out words I thought were important

Throughout church I picked out words I thought were important

As I stumble through consonants foreign to my ears and tongue, I’m slowly understanding why Varun makes some of the funny mistakes and hilarious connections he does. As a second language learner, your brain is constantly attempting to file, connect and interpret. Sometimes, this makes for laughable moments….

When I hear a new word, it often reminds me of a Bollywood song that contains the same or similar words.

On Sunday evening, I learned the Hindi word  for “world”, which sounds very similar to another word I learned that evening, “coriander”. Unfortunately for me, “world”, “coriander” and “bride” are all on the same shelf in my brain: “Hindi Words With Du—-a”. I absentmindedly began singing a famous song from DDLJ, that exclaims that the brave-hearted man gets the bride. Except in my version, the brave-hearted man gets the coriander. And the world.


One day, I was singing an old Hindi song, Mere Sapno Ki Rani, the chorus of which essentially says, “Queen of my dreams, when will you come?” However, to my English-speaking tongue, the word “come” emerges remarkably similar to the word “nanny”. As I sat brushing my hair and singing softly, Vasudha erupted into laughter to hear me singing a love song to the Nanny of my dreams….


Perhaps the hardest part about learning Hindi is the preponderance of consonants that vary ever so slightly based on aspiration and the placement of one’s tongue. For example, there are two T sounds, two D sounds, two G’s….one simply starts with the tongue at the back and moves forward, aspirating or not…et voila, a string of varied consonants emerge. Except that I cannot hear the difference between most of them. And I’m hopeless at imitating the difference.

Me: (In Hindi) We would like to buy some tea leaves. (Tea leaves sounds like “chai putti”)


Me: ?

Shanti: Chai putti. Chai putti nahi. (“Chai putti. Not chai putti”). 

I met her eager gaze, eyes wide. She went on to explain that “putti” is husband and “putti” is leaves. Apparently, I had asked to buy “chai husband”. Whatever that is.

And yes, I wrote the distinctions the exact same way because to my ear, they are the same word. Looks like someone needs to get back to studying…

Part of my alphabet chart...

Part of my alphabet chart…

On our trek back from Rajasthan, my brand new brother-in-law Vishal and my dear husband heard my pleas and wrote out the Hindi alphabet. Except that as I looked at it, they informed me they hadn’t written the vowels. Those would come later. Oh, and by the way, there are half consonants. How many, you ask? Every letter has one.


One Response to Fun With Words, Hindi Edition

  1. friend

    @ els marriage

    Dhania- Coriander

    Dhulania- Bride

    Dunia- World

    The problem as you rightly pointed out is the placement of tongue. English does not use “dha” “tha” sounds. Instead the sounds more often are “ta” or “da”.

    As for “mere sapno ke rani kab aayage tu”

    There is no aaya in this song. You were probably singing it wrongly.

    Aaya- Nanny

    Aaya- Come (male)

    Aaye- Come (female)

    As for difference between husband and tea leaves:-

    Pati- Husband

    Patti- Leaves (double t means stretching the sound “t”)

    There is no “u” or “ohh” sound in Pati as you were told.

    You have been pronouncing words incorrectly and the people around you being native hindi speakers are unable to guide you properly. Hindi is is based on phonetics and far more flexible regarding sentence construction, placement or words etc. than english which has more strict guidelines for this.

Thoughts? I love hearing from you!