The land of multifarious cultures and traditions, and peoples with their numerous tongues – that is India, in a nutshell. In a country of such wide variety, traveling is always an incredible experience, but it is richer when you acquaint yourself with the local language. So, what is that essential basic language for foreign travelers to traveling in India? While India is a country of multiple languages and dialects, an official language that is considered the national language for practical purpose is Hindi.
Knowing how to translate
Often called Hindustani, Hindi is spoken in different forms, by people all across the northern region of India. According to statistics, around 43 out of 100 people on the subcontinent are supposed to speak some kind of Hindi. If you are traveling anywhere in North India, a quick English to Hindi translator can be quite useful. You find many translators of this kind online, and there are books too available, instructing you in the basics of Hindi.
Making everyday conversation
One of the vital needs in traveling in a foreign country is to be able to understand and follow everyday conversations. Say, if you are getting on buses or buying something in a shop, or instructing the cab-driver, you need to know the basics to get along. ‘Accha’ (Yes), ‘Nahin’ (No), ‘Dukaan’ (shop), ‘Rukiye’ (Stop), ‘kahaan’ (Where), ‘seedha’ (straight) are a few everyday words in Hindi that you can use in conversation.
Family bonding and relationships are quite important in India, and hierarchies in addressing people is a part of traditional custom. For those used to the generic ‘you’ in English, it can be quite interesting to know the different variants on ‘you’ in Hindi, depending on who you are addressing. If you are addressing someone respectfully, ‘aap’ is usual, and among friends or people you know, ‘tum’ is a common address. ‘Tu’ is mainly for small children or to show intimacy and affection. Strangely enough, this same ‘tu’ can often be used in a pejorative way, if someone wants to be disrespectful. It can also be useful to know a few words of greetings in Hindi. ‘Shukriya’ is a common greeting when you meet someone, and ‘Namastay’ or Namaskar’ is a greeting that is said while joining palm to palm.
In several parts of India, English is also spoken quite commonly, especially if you go down to South India or West India. India is one of the English speaking countries, as it was British-occupied for more than a century, and Indians use English quite freely, peppering the language they speak with a few words of English. You can also expect most cab-drivers to know common English words like ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ to indicate directions. In the Northeastern part of India, most people are fairly comfortable with English.
Check out these quick tips on languages for foreign travelers in India:
- To what extent you acquaint yourself with an Indian language, depends on how intensive your stay will be. If you are just coming by on a flying visit, you can make do with a basic word translator. You also have mobile applications that function well to introduce you to common words, phrases, gender differences, words of greeting etc. in Hindi.
- If you want to learn Hindi in a rudimentary fashion, and find out the nuances of pronunciation pick up a few CDs or videos. It is even better to do this before you come down to India.
- In the Eastern part of India, especially if you go to some place like Kolkata, Bengali or Bangla is common. In many ways it is much like Hindi with many basic differences. If you plan to stay long in Kolkata, you can pick up a few basic books on how to learn Bangla.
It’s not really about India, wherever you go, it’s a good idea to have an acquaintance with the local language. After all, language is for communication, and when you know a bit of what the local tongue is, it immediately adds to your confidence as you make your way about in a foreign land. In India, even a basic acquaintance with the local language can help you mix more easily with locals, have interesting experiences and get enriched wherever you travel.