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How Hindi is Catching on in U.S. Schools and Colleges

Hindi is a meal ticket for people with the right college degrees as there's a demand for teachers with language abilities. The U.S Army and intelligence agencies also hire linguists and translators.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   29-10-2015
Students from the University of Texas enjoy their year in India as part of the Hindi Urdu Flagship (HUF) program.

The American government is generously funding U.S. schools and colleges to teach foreign languages deemed vital to the economy and national security. First, it was Chinese, Arabic and now, there is a great push to teach Hindi as India emerges as one of the world's fastest growing economies.

Hindi Urdu­­­ Flagship Program

In 2006, the National Security Education Program gave the University of Texas at Austin’s South Asia Institute over $700,000 to establish a language program. The university then created the Hindi Urdu Flagship (HUF) program to train students in language proficiency across a range of disciplines.

The HUF program is a four-year undergrad program at the University of Texas designed for students who wish to achieve proficiency in Hindi and Urdu while majoring in Business, Communications or Liberal Arts.

In the third year, students travel abroad as part of HUF’s "Year in India" semester divided between the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur and Lucknow. The students also visit Indian cities like Delhi, Benares and Hyderabad.

"My Major is in Linguistics and Asian Cultures and Languages," says HUF student Miranda Adkins. "This ties in with my career interests which include translation, historical linguistics and language education."

Hindi Programs in U.S. Universities

HUF program students pursue an internship in India that draws on their Hindi and Urdu skills.

A number of institutions in addition to the University of Texas offer Hindi programs, and among them is the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Here undergrads majoring in South and Southeast Asian Languages and Literature take four semesters of language work in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Indonesian, Khmer, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, or Vietnamese. Similarly, the UC Berkeley graduate program offers emphases in Hindi, Urdu, Indonesian, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Khmer languages and literatures.

A business Hindi course is popular among students at the University of Pennsylvania.

“More and more heritage students are learning Hindi for business purposes. This shift is tied to India’s economic growth,” says Vijay Gambhir, professor in the Department of South Asia Studies, at the University of Pennsylvania.

The University of Chicago, Princeton, Harvard and Yale also offer Hindi programs. The South Asia Language Resource Center (SALRC), at the University of Chicago, is one of the 15 language centers established by the U.S. Department of Education.

"Studying Hindi at the University of Chicago was one of my best experiences in college. The program is engaging and effective — it took less than two weeks in Hindi 101 for us to learn to read and write the Devanagri script! I spent the summer after my first year interning with an NGO in New Delhi," said Avital Datskovsky.

Datskovsky was inspired by the Hindi program at the University of Chicago to major in South Asian Languages and Civilizations and to study Hindi in Jaipur.

Hindi Learners in School

A few years ago, Edison, a New York suburb with a bustling Indian population of doctors, engineers and techies became one of the first school districts in the U.S. to use federal money to teach Hindi. Besides Edison, nationwide, two other districts Dallas and Houston offer Hindi as a foreign language.

Edison is working with Rutgers University to create fast-track Hindi teaching certificates. The demand for Hindi teachers and course material has snowballed. Two decades ago, Arun Prakash accepted a job at Bellaire High School, in Texas to teach the school's first Hindi course. After using photocopies and binder throughout to teach his classes, Prakash came out with a 480-page textbook, Namaste Jii, which is the first high school Hindi textbook in the U.S.

There's a clear demand for resourceful Hindi teachers like Prakash in U.S. schools, colleges and foreign language learning centers.

“I earn $75 to lead a hour-long Hindi class once a week,” says Vijay Mallick who gives Hindi lessons at a language education center in Tribeca, in New York.

"I also give private Hindi lessons to several students and two American diplomats. Interest in India, all things Indian, Bollywood and Hindi have exploded in recent years," says Mallick.

Uncle Sam Needs Linguists

Hindi may be a meal ticket for people with the right credentials as several U.S. intelligence, and security agencies require Hindi, Urdu translators to be able to intercept surveillance and operate in different parts of the world.

"As a linguist or translator in the U.S. Army you are deployed to duty stations around the world. You can get recruited for language interpretation and intelligence analysis. As a linguist, you can qualify for an enlistment bonus up to $40,000 and the Montgomery GI Bill worth over $60,000," says an army recruiter.

In 2009, the US Army piloted a wildly popular program allowing immigrants who speak one or more of 35 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Hindi to enlist in the military and receive citizenship by the end of basic training — that’s just 10 weeks.
 

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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