Language learners explore art, culture and community in Hindi 101 & 203

Thursday, December 12, 2019
By Kusum Knapczyk, Ph.D.
students creating art

The goal of Hindi 101 and Hindi 203 is to help connect students to the local Indian community and Hindi speakers, enhance their understanding of art and culture, and improve their ability to use Hindi for creating bonds with culture and community. My students suggested that it would be nice to chat in Hindi with somebody outside the class. So I looked around and thought about several people who could be a good fit to come to my class and chat in the language. This semester I invited Nileena Pani Dash a local artist in Durham, who came to my Elementary and Intermediate Hindi classes. As a native speaker of Hindi, Nileena spoke in Hindi during the classes and created an authentic experience for our Hindi language students. [See a multimedia photo essay here.]

To prepare my students for Nileena’s visit, I asked her to send me an introduction and answer a few questions. I had given her a series of questions according to the level of my students’ understanding of Hindi. For Elementary Hindi, I asked her to answer basic questions related to familiar and everyday activities such as: tell me about yourself, what things do you like do, who is in your family, how long have you been in Durham, what do you do every day, who is your favorite artist?

For the Intermediate class, she answered in a series of sentences using formal Hindi. Her questions were: how did she become interested in art, how does she make art, how does her family support her in this interest?

Students listened to the audio before she came to my classes. They also saw her art through her Facebook page. This was good for them to get familiar with her and her art, so they could feel comfortable when she came to class. I asked my students to think of one or two questions to ask her related to her art.

When she came to the class she was a little hesitant to talk in Hindi at first because she didn’t know their levels and also didn’t know if they would be able to understand what she is saying in Hindi. Students were also a little shy to open up. Gradually when I introduced her to the class and my students introduced themselves to her they opened up a little bit. It was a nice change for them to talk in Hindi with outside people. Nileena showed my students some of her sample mosaic art and showed them how to create one. They all started making art while chatting with her, asking several questions about her and her art. My students were very creative in making the art. They all wanted to make something unique and beautiful.

They were asked her: why do people make this specific art and where do they decorate? If they decorate outside then how do they protect it from the weather? Which Indian artist is famous for making mosaic?

Some students created a mosaic with the initials of their own names in Hindi. I think everybody loves their own name. It was interesting to see them engaged in talk and art for the whole class. We didn’t realize that our class time went by so fast. Students finished their art and came back the next day asking me about the guest. They asked me how I met her and how long have I known her?

I felt that asking her questions made my students feel comfortable and they felt that they were part of the community. I will keep working on this kind of activity more to promote an environment where students can use the language and culture outside the classroom and connect to the world.  

A student from Hindi 203 wrote, “we had the opportunity to make mosaic art in the form of a coaster. We had a professional artist came in who spoke in Hindi to us and explained to us the concept of mosaic art and the hard work that goes behind it. After some talking, we began to get our hands dirty. The artist handed us a coaster and told us to glue down various tiles and acrylic. Everyone in the class was able to make their own design that they liked. We had time to create our respective pieces, and when we were confident that the glue had dried, we moved on to the next step of the process: grouting. Applying grout fills in the gaps of the tile to ensure that the pieces don’t fall out and the design stays in place. While we were applying the grout, conversations began to spring up, and our Hindi speaking skills were put to the test. 

Overall, making the art was a great experience. I was able to hone my Hindi speaking skills while talking to the artist and also leave class with a piece of artwork. It was also a great opportunity for the class to bond and for everyone to let loose and learn Hindi in a passive, yet effective way. I find myself learning a lot from the movies and activities done in class as there is no better way of learning a language then seeing native speakers speak it or speaking it yourself. We all want to thank Kusum Ji for organizing this was a fun and exciting way to learn Hindi without opening up a textbook.”