Hindi is an Indo-European language, meaning that many words come from the same root as English! And yet the language has evolved so much, from Sanskrit to Prakrit to Khariboli to Hindi, alas, we now cannot do without an English to Hindi Dictionary.
As an official language of India (next to Tamil, Marathi, Punjabi, Telugu and many others), Hindi is native to northern India and Pakistan (where the Hindustani language or dialect is called Urdu and written with an Arabic script rather than the Hindi Devanagari alphabet.)
Obviously, learning Hindi takes a long time. You need to learn not just the Hindi alphabet and pronunciation, but all the grammar rules such as the different verb tenses, how to make an adjective agree with a noun and proper sentence structure.
But to get you started with the Hindi language, here is some basic Hindi vocabulary, expressions, words and phrases that are useful when going to Delhi or looking for the Hindu temple of Galtaji (dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman).
This blog mainly uses transliterations, which of course don’t teach you how to pronounce the words – we suggest you download a Hindi podcast from ITunes on your phone for practising or else bring the words to your Superprof tutor and seeing if he is a true contributor to your struggle to understand Hindi by speaking these words out loud for you.
When we speak English, we have several registers in which we talk:
In Hindi, there are many more subtleties to the formal and informal registers. There can be several versions of formal speak, depending on the rank of the person you are talking to (whether in terms of caste or just your boss), and their relationship to you. There are also several informal registers, variations from friendly to intimate.
This is hard for Hindi translators to convey. Words might appear as synonyms and have the same English translation, but belong to different levels of formality.
The Hindi word for “hello” is namaste – literally, “I bow to you” – which they will. Though some Indians will shake hands, most bring their palms together in front of their chest, fingers up, and bow slightly. You can also say namaskaar or, as a respectful greeting to superiors or elders, pranaam. You can say these Hindi words of greeting at any time of day.
Namaste is the usual Hindi greeting. Photo credit: derluckylucas on Visual Hunt
If you are speaking Urdu (a language with a lot of Persian and Arabic words), you will say assalaam-aleikum, “may God be with you”, a phrase that the Muslim people of Pakistan took from Arabic.
“Hi” is suno or suniye.
When leaving, you might say namaste again, or phir milenge (”see you”). A casual “bye” is “alvida, whereas a more formal “farewell” is vidai.
The equivalent to “so long” would be bahut lamba.
When welcoming someone you know very well, use aaiye and padhariye!
When welcoming a stranger, use swagt.
“Nice to meet you” is
Ap se milkar kushi hui
Saying “how are you“:
kaisa chal raha hai?
Kyal haal hai?
Main theek hoon.
Aap-kaa naam kyaa hai. (formal)
Tum-hara naam kyaa hai.
My name is…
Meraa naam (insert name here) hain.
It is interesting to note that this sentence is not modified according to gender – it’s the same phrase whether it is spoken to a man or a woman.
Kripaya, used at the beginning of a sentence.
When you look in your English-Hindi dictionary for the Hindi translation of “thank you”, you will find dhanyavaad. However, it is important to note that this word is not used lightly in an Indian language.
Thanks for everyday things such as handing someone their Hindi dictionary or holding open the door are implied. The word “dhanyavaad” is frequently used for very big favours and almost never with family or intimate friends – whom you can inadvertently insult if you thank them!
However, the younger generation has gotten more into the habit of saying “thank you” for smaller things – when in doubt, ask your acquaintances and friend if it is acceptable in a specific situation, or say how much you enjoy what was given or done for you rather than saying “thanks”.
This podcast offers several different ways of thanking people according to the situation.
In case someone else has thanked you (no headache there), here are some ways you can say “You’re welcome”:
Mera subhagya hai.
Koi baat nahi.
There are several ways to say “you’re welcome” in Hindi, but you don’t have to sing it. Photo credit: NEPA Scene on VisualHunt.com
Like many other aspects of the Hindi tongue, there are several registers for the expression “excuse me”, depending on the formality. This is one thing where Hindi to English translation dictionaries and apps often fail:
Mujhe aphasosa hai (I’m sorry about that)
Some languages have a formal “you” and an informal “you” (English has lost its informal “you”).
Hindi has formal, informal and intimate. Knowing how intimate is intimate enough is difficult, however, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and use the informal with friends and family.
Depending on who you are addressing, you should use:
|Informal||Good acquaintances, friends||Tum|
|Intimate||Good friends and siblings, lovers||Tu|
While you can use Mistar and Misez for Mr. and Mrs, the Indian designations are Sri and Srimati.
When addressing someone, adding -jee after their name is a sign of respect:
Mataa (mother) = mataa-jee
Pitaa (father) = pitaa-jee
Mina (girl’s name) = Mina-jee
When confronted with Hindi vocabulary, one thing that seems to stump a lot of people are the Hindi numbers. Hindi uses a decimal system, and as long as you are counting from one to ten it’s literally a simple matter of memorization and logic.
After that, they function along the principles of prefix (unit) + suffix (decimal). Thus, pentsadh is 65, chavti is 34.
|Numeral||Word||Prefix||Decimal suffix||Decimal name (20, 30, 40)|
|3||tin||te- or ti-||-tis||tis|
|9||nao||un- (-1) + the suffix of the next decimal up (unnasi = 80-1 = 79||-ave||nabbe|
However, here are a few things a beginner Hindi learner ought to know:
Look here for the Devanagari numerals.
Hopefully, if you get the chance to learn Hindi with an immersion holiday, you will also be doing some shopping – and hopefully more than just at the pharmacy! Here are some simple phrases you might need in shops (and to help you get there!)
The right Hindi vocabulary can be very useful for shopping for sarees. Photo credit: Nandakishore Mohanram on Visual hunt
Not everything is priced in the shops, so you need to know this important phrase:
Ye kitane ka hai.
When presented with several options in a shop (the red or the blue saree?) you should use these Hindi phrases:
I like this: Mujhe pasand hai.
I don’t like this: Mujhe pasand nahi hai.
When on your shopping spree, if you ever feel peckish (or thirsty) and want to go get something to eat, say:
Mujhe bhook/pyaas lagi hai.
When searching for the perfect gift, you might need some Indian-language directions to get to the right store:
And of course, you need to know how to get there! Here’s how to translate words for modes of transportation:
You need to know the right Hindi words to find the train to take you to your next destination on your Indian immersion holiday. Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection on Visualhunt.com
Of course, dictionaries are useful, and you shouldn’t visit India without a Hindi – English dictionary in your pack or loaded onto your phone.
But words are one thing, intelligible sentences are something else. It’s not enough to simply translate English to Hindi word for word – the sentences need to be grammatically correct, adapted to the status of the person you are talking to… And while translation software is getting better and better, it’s still not the same as having a human Hindi translator – or learning to speak Hindi yourself.
Here are some ready-to-use Indic phrases to help you out when travelling on the Indian subcontinent.
This sentence is important if you are feeling ill and need to lie down or get to a doctor.
Mujhe theek nhi lg rha.
If you are among strangers, you need to know how to ask for help without an English dictionary:
Kya aap meri madad kar sakte hain?
Or, in an urgent situation, just “help”:
The translations from English to Hindi are easy in this case, as the words are taken from English:
While many language courses like to teach you “Do you speak Hindi?” as one of the first phrases in a new language, learning how to say “do you speak English” is much more useful for a beginner Hindi speaker.
Kya ap angrezi bolte/bolti (m/f) hai?
You might sometimes be addressed by people who want to help or just sell you something. Either way, you should tell them this:
Mujhe hindi nahi ati hair. (I don’t speak Hindi.)
Mai Hindi nai bol sakta hu. (I can’t speak Hindi.)
Being an intermediate student in a language can be frustrating. You know more than a few basic phrases, your vocabulary is fine for everyday situations, but you still often find yourself reaching for your Hindi dictionary to read signs; when talking to people, you will be using an English translator app for some phrases; when listening, use this sentence a lot:
Mai samjha/samhi nahi.
Sometimes the problem is not so much that the person is using new words you don’t know, but that you can’t tell because they are talking so fast your brain can’t catch get it all translated to English by the time they’ve finished the sentence. You ask ask them so speak more slowly:
Dhire dhire boliye.
Of course, everyone appreciates it when someone makes an effort in learning their language. Since many Hindi speak fair to good English, you can try asking these questions and you’l have a good chance of understanding the answer:
What does [insert Hindi word] mean?
[…] ka artha/matlab kya hai?
How do you say [insert English words]?
[…] kaise kahate hai?
To practise your Hindi, why not get yourself a “word of the day” calendar in Hindi? Or, once you’ve progressed a little beyond beginner status, read Hindi poets – poetry often uses interesting and unusual words.