Hindi & Urdu at Vanderbilt
This year, Professor Elliott McCarter joined Vanderbilt’s Asian Studies department and brought Hindi and Urdu language to campus. I am an Indian-American who grew up speaking Urdu and Hindi, but I’ve always wanted to advance my skills and learn how to read and write. So, I took advantage of this new opportunity and decided to enroll. I am now a student in Intermediate Hindi and Urdu (HNUR 2201 on YES if you’re looking to enroll).
Taking the class doesn’t really help out with any of my majors or career goals, but I view my college experience as a way to try out all the subjects I’m curious about, and studying my native tongue, especially because I am a Spanish major and spend a lot of time studying that language, seemed like the coolest thing ever. Also, Hindi and Urdu are expressed in very intricate and beautiful scripts, so learning how to write in them was something I really wanted to do.
The class, because it is so new, has very few students. The beginner class has around 10-12 students, but my intermediate class has 2 people total, sometimes three depending on the day, and that small class size is something I really value. Professor McCarter, or Elliott Ji as we call him, tailors the class to what he thinks would be most useful to our individual goals, so the structure of the class changes from week to week. It’s kind of funny because at first glance you would not think Elliott Ji taught Hindi because he’s a white guy from North Carolina, but he has dedicated his career to the subject and spent a lot of time in India, so it’s very interesting to get his perspective.
The other student in the class, Shawn, is not of South Asian descent and started learning the language last year through a summer program and can read and write really well, so his focus is working on his speaking and listening skills. I, on the other hand, have grown up with the language, but reading and writing is still a struggle. Elliott Ji balances out these two different backgrounds through his lessons and Shawn and I support each other through the specific aspects we’re skilled in. Hindi/Urdu combines traditional literature, grammar and vocabulary acquisition, Bollywood movies, pop culture, and anecdotes from lived experiences to create this really unique class environment.
Another thing that I, as a Harry Potter lover, appreciate is that in Hindi we are sorted into different houses in order to build a community and compete for points in the House Cup. The Houses are Deshwal, Begum, Chaturvedi, and Azaad, and they mimic Hogwarts houses pretty well. Surprisingly, my Slytherclaw self was placed in Deshwal, the Gryffindor equivalent, by the magic sorting “pagri” (turban). Later in the semester, we’re going to play Cricket, our version of quidditch in the Harry Potter universe, and we created some sick shirts in preparation (they’re long sleeved!!).
I’m really excited to see how this program progresses, especially now that there is South Asian Studies major, and accompanying minor. I will actually be one of the first to minor in SAS. If you’re thinking of trying out something new and have any type of interest in languages beyond the usual Spanish and French, I would totally recommend trying out Hindi! Don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, or even if you just want to talk about our favorite Bollywood songs. I love emails from you guys.