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Take the lessons on this page to start reading and writing Hindi. Learn the Dev Naagari alphabet and listen to and read some common, useful Hindi phrases.

         
   

 


Background Story
The Hindi Menu

My study of Hindi began in 1977 in a restaurant in Amritsar, a lively and celebrated city in the heart of the Punjab, in northern India.

For some time, without any success, I'd been looking for a chart of the Hindi alphabet if only for the purpose of deciphering the signs on buses and shops. A bus going to Delhi was virtually indistinguishable from one going to Madras, just as a chemist's shop looked pretty much like a book stall, or a plumbing supply store.

It was only when I went into a dhaba (restaurant) in Amritsar that I finally got my hands on an alphabet chart, in what was the last place I'd have looked: on the back of the menu. It became my constant companion (after I'd gotten permission from the restaurant owner, of course) and was invaluable in my early travels throughout India.

I thought to save you the trouble of searching for a chart yourself by providing a copy of one here.

View a bigger version of the chart

           
 

Lesson 1 - Learning the Dev Naagari (Hindi) Alphabet

There are a few important things to be aware of when starting to learn the alphabet:

  • Hindi is a phonetic language, meaning that the way a word is spelled corresponds to the way it is pronounced, and vice versa. So you don't find words like knife, with its mysteriously silent k, in Hindi. Pronunciation is easy as letters are always pronounced exactly the same way. Once you have learned the letters, reading is simple.

  • Many letters in Hindi are aspirated, like those in the second and fourth columns of the first five rows of consonants in this Hindi chart. They are pronounced with a definite exhalation, as if the consonant was combined with a following h sound.  

  • Letters in the third row of consonants on the chart are pre-palatal or retroflex, meaning that the letters are pronounced with the tip of the tongue curled upwards and touching the middle of the palate, a bit back from the teeth. That's what the dot under the English transliteration represents.

  • You can download the sounds of the letters found on the alphabet chart. In-depth instruction is given on the Let's Learn Hindi CD.

  • The following website demonstrates a technique for writing the Hindi letters, and lets you listen to their sounds: www.avashy.com/hindiscripttutor.htm
 
           

Lesson 2 - Reading Exercises

After you have learned how to read, write and pronounce the Hindi letters, or using the above chart, you can practice reading simple words by downloading these sound files and listening to them while reading the lines below.

Two-letter words:

Three- and four-letter words:

* In reference to this word, when the consonant ‘ha’ () follows any other consonant, as in this word, and neither the ‘ha’ nor the other consonant has an attached maatraa, or vowel, then the ‘a’ sound in both letters is softened to an ‘eh’ sound.

More four-letter words:

     

Lesson 3 - Useful Expressions

Start with hearing and learning how to say 'Good Morning!' and end by learning the expression for, 'I am fine,' and learn many useful expressions in between, by downloading and listening to these sound files. If you have learned how to read by now, then it would be most beneficial to read along with the sounds.

 
* Nasalization of certain sounds is a distinctive feature of Hindi. A sound is made nasal by pronouncing the sound with the breath passing through the nose and constricting the throat slightly (as in honk and bon vogage). In the transliterated senteces above, the small raised n denotes nasalization.  
           

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