Is Hindi Difficult to Learn? Honest Answer

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Written By Jessica Knight

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

You may have heard that Hindi is difficult to learn. While that may be true in a nutshell it requires deeper digging. 

A better way to put it is to say that Hindi is a challenging language to learn!

With heavy grammatical differences and the obvious barrier of its written script, it can be daunting to take that first step.

But remember any beginner-level language learner is going to find the start of the process a challenge.

Sometimes learning an alphabet that isn’t written in Latin lettering is enough to scare people off entirely.

But it is a hurdle worth crossing, there is a huge sense of accomplishment waiting.

We won’t lie, as English speakers, there will be significant differences between the two languages- despite the fact they share lexical roots.

But, in this analytical article, we are going to answer the question “How Difficult is Hindi to Learn?” and try to bury the misconception that Hindi is an impossible language to learn.

Is Learning Hindi Difficult?

Learning any language can be difficult. It boils down to process, capacity for learning, attitudes, and motivation.

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two and examine the reasons why people consider Hindi difficult to learn.

Both English and Hindi are classified as Indo-European languages sharing common origins once upon a time. But the language split over 6,500 years ago. 

You would think that gives them plenty in common but you would be wrong.

Lexicologists place Hindi pretty high-up in the top 8 most difficult languages to learn for an English speaker due to the following challenges:

  • Language script
  • Extra consonants
  • Diacritic grammar
  • Low lexical similarity percentage
  • Grammatical gender
  • Sentence structure
  • Complex plurals
  • 2nd person differences

We’ll dive into the list in a little more detail as we discuss whether Hindi is difficult or not to learn.

Language script

One of the main reasons that Hindi is considered hard to learn is its script. Hindi is written in Devanagari which is an abugida script. That means the individual characters represent consonant and vowel combinations.

As English speakers and readers, it is always difficult to learn a language that uses non-Latin characters for its alphabet.

Learning a language that has its own writing system is a challenge but not impossible so don’t let that be the reason you shy away from learning it!

Extra Consonants

Hindi has more vowels and consonants than English.  Our alphabet has 26 letters while Hindi has 32 basic consonants and unique vowel sound indicators that can be attached to any consonant.

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Fortunately, once you master the Hindi alphabet you will be able to read and pronounce any word.

The letter pronunciation doesn’t change. English has taken on so many loanwords in its early days that the letter pronunciation rules don’t hold true and it is a phonetic minefield!

However, word pronunciation is very important! (Read below)

Diacritic Grammar

Where the accent falls on a word is of extreme importance in Hindi as it is Diacritic. If you were to accent the wrong part of the word you change the significance of the word entirely.

A good comparison in English would be to examine the word “refuse”. If we place an accent on the “re”-part the word “refuse” refers to the noun we used for “rubbish”, items that need throwing out or taking away.

However, if we stress the “use”-part the word “refuse” is a verb that describes the action of someone who is not willing to participate, perform a task, or accept or proceed with something demanded of them.

There are a few examples of this with English words, such as “content”, “desert”, and “present” but Hindi as it is written with consonant combinations is chock-full of them.

Where the accent falls in Hindi is crucial. 

Grammatical Gender

Like the majority of European languages, Hindi assigns a gender to inanimate objects.

This means the verb changes in accordance with the object’s gender. It’s a tricky concept for English speakers as we have no gender attachment to objects. 

Low Lexical Similarity Percentage

Languages that originate from the same families typically share similarities in vocabulary. Roots that we can recognize and cognate the two together. 

Most European languages have a large percentage of vocabulary that has visible lexical similarity with English vocabulary. Typically between 35% and 45% but Hindi differs very heavily making it trickier to expand for native English speakers.

Learning the basics can therefore take a lot longer than learning Spanish, French, or German.

Sentence Structure 

In English we structure a sentence using a subject-verb-object format. Hindi forms its sentences using subject-object-verb structure. Hindi does not use “the” as a definite article.

2nd Person Differences

Hindi has 3 words to address in the second person, they are; ‘tu’,’tum ’, and ’aap’ they imply increased formality respectively. English only uses only one word for the singular and plural.

Complex Plurals

When we form plurals in English, we usually just add an -s or -es.

In Hindi however, it is a little more complex. 

Masculine nouns that end with आ change to ए  from an -a to an -e sound in their plural form. Other masculine words are pluralized using suffixes such as -on, 

Female nouns change the अ at the end to एं which sounds like -ein. Others become -iyon/iyan.

Here are some examples of pluralizations:

  • Bear Bhaalu – भालू
  • Bears Bhaluon  – भालुओं 
  • Bird Pakshi – पक्षी
  • Birds Pakshiyon  – पक्षियों 
  • Cow Gaay – गाय
  • Cows Gaayen  – गायें 
  • Dog Kutta – कुत्ता
  • Dogs Kutte  – कुत्ते 
  • Donkey Gadha – गधा
  • Donkeys Gadahe – गदहे
  • Horse Ghoda – घोड़ा
  • Horses Ghode – घोड़े
  • Lion Sher – शेर
  • Lions Sheron  – शेरों
  • Monkey Bandar – बंदर
  • Monkeys Bandaron – बंदरों
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How Hard is Hindi to Learn?

Only you can answer that one! 

Learning Hindi can be very hard, especially for a native English speaker. 

Devanagari script aside, the phonetics and enunciation are considerably different. 

There are many similar-sounding words; the differences are so subtle that a foreigner’s ear will struggle to hear them at first.

The grammar placement can be tricky to master and there are very few cognates in the vocabulary

But now that we have pointed out the difficulties let’s boost your confidence and take a look at some cognates before we summarise how to go about making Hindi a little easier to learn.

English & Hindi Cognates

Cognates are words that have similar pronunciation or spelling in two different languages that also have similar meanings. 

As we said, English and Hindi share very few. 

There are some English words that trace their roots back to Sanskrit, which is one of the four main influences of the Hindi language these words cognate.

We have traded with India for a long time, we imported silk and spices and adapted our language as we learned of their culture during the empirical era.

The word “dungaree” finds its roots in Hindi the word डूंगरी pronounced; ḍūṅgrī, describes a  coarse type of calico fabric worn by laborers working in Mumbai, specifically in the Dongri area.

We use the word to describe a work overall styled piece of clothing made from heavy denim fabric.

On the subject of clothing…

The word “cummerbund” can be literally translated as “waist-band” in Hindi कमरबन्द “kamar” is the word for “waist” or “loins” and “bandi” is “band”.

The word Bandana comes from the verb “to tie” which is बांधना in Hindi pronounced “bandhna”.

My favorite cognate between the two languages is “Jungle” the Hindi word जंगल (said “jangal”) means uncultivated wildland and comes from the Sanskrit word with the same definition that is pronounced “jaṅgala”.

We also have a fair few Hindi loanwords that we have adopted into English. Take a look at the Hindi word for “heist” लूट it is pronounced “loot”, recognize it?

While there are far fewer cognates than in some European languages you will stumble upon them on occasion. There may be many words you recognize having never studied the language.

You probably could tell me what a “Maharaja” or a “Guru” was, some of you might have heard the term “ganja” now that legislation has loosened in the U.S.

Here are a few English words that are actually Hindi loanwords that you may or not be aware of:

  • Avatar
  • Bangle
  • Bungalow
  • Juggernaut
  • Pashmina
  • Tank
  • Trigonometry
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We have also taken on concepts such as Karma, Mantra, and Nirvana. We use many Hindi words for foods that we have taken from Indian cuisines, such as “raita”, “roti”, and “chutney”.

Modern Hindi has also borrowed back! Many technological words have been borrowed from English, like many languages. Here are some Hindi words that you are bound to know…

  • Car
  • Bus
  • Station
  • Cycle
  • Computer

Hopefully, this demonstrates that Hindi can be made easier!

So, Is Hindi That Hard To Learn?

The biggest challenge a beginner will face will be the Devanagari script. The key here is not to get intimidated by it. 

Anyone English native or not can learn to speak Hindi or any other language. How difficult Hindi is to learn boils down to the student’s intentions and how hard they are prepared to work.

Here are the four most important things to think about when learning Hindi.

  • The Method of Learning
  • The Time Dedicated to Learning
  • Your Attitude
  • Your Motivation

It takes time to learn the grammatical rules and practice and dedication to master them, but that’s the case with learning any language.

There is great pride in learning a language with another script and globalization is driving the need to learn Hindi. 

Learning Hindi can be made easier with the right tools to assist you and we live in an age where the tools are at our fingertips.

Learning to listen and understand the language starts with reading and writing and trying to enunciate the new sounds that make up the words.

Immerse yourself in the language where possible. Make a trip to India and meet the people. 

To hear the language spoken firsthand is very beneficial to your Hindi learning process.

If you can’t travel to India, look for local Hindi speakers in your community, make friends online, and seek a language exchange partner.

Watch Bollywood films, and listen to Hindi music. There is plenty of online learning content out there to help you learn Hindi.

Our top tips for anyone who finds Hindi difficult to learn are:

  • Learn the alphabet and sounds
  • Pay attention to the tone and cadence of speech
  • Identify sentence patterns and learn prefixes and suffixes
  • Expand your vocabulary in bursts
  • Master grammar in your own time
  • Become familiar with culture and slang to sound like a local

Is Hindi Difficult to Learn? – Final Thoughts

So is Hindi hard to learn?

Only the learner can really answer that one. With the right outlook and mindset, you can master anything.

Hindi is a difficult language to learn but a very rewarding one with so many speakers worldwide it can open doors or at the very least windows into cultures other than your own.

Fingers crossed our article has shed some light on the challenges Hindi presents to English learners and bolstered you with enough tips on how to approach it more easily.

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