Profiles in Language Teaching at UT: Vidhu Shekhar Chaturvedi
When I made my debut as Research Assistant for American, Canadian and European scholars back in 1992 I was deeply impressed by the ineluctability of having the command on my first and second language for attaining that crucial ability to transpose exactly the nuanced meanings and sense of what was being communicated between two parties who were culturally and sociolinguistically poles apart. When a villager recounted long tales from one of the Puranas by way of response to a seemingly simple question put to him and I translated that tale to my client, it was not easy to convince my client that the question had indeed been responded in the fullest possible way with much elaboration, lots of color, colorful images, indications, smilies and symbols painted adroitly with words.
Our informants used to be mostly villagers -farmers, agricultural labors and their families- of North India who speak Hindi dialects that can be quite different from the standard Hindi in structure, expressions, flavor and sociocultural contexts. Occasionally my clients, the scholars will come with scholarly questionnaires aptly translated in inevitably formal Hindi of quite hight register. The questions more than often not just needed to be simplified but had to be altered altogether so they would make sense to the listener and shall elicit ready response.
As I gained proficiency in my ‘art’ of being an adept intermediary between two very different cultures through the medium of languages, my real reward became those unforgettable moments when two people living in different worlds on the same planet were able to connect with each other. There were sentimental moments full of tearful eyes and sentimental gesticulations and life-long relationships were built between people who could not understand a word of other’s language.
My respect for significance of languages and importance of their wide spectrum of nuances deepened and a desire to help others gain proficiency in their pursuit of a second or third language initiated and set its roots in my heart. Incidentally, that was also the time when the Indian Government opened Indian doors that had been closed for long to the calls of globalization; so the time seemed just right for this kind of profession.
I have worked for 11 years with advance level Hindi learners at the AIIS. They were mostly graduate students preparing for their Ph.D.
Here, at UT at Austin my job is to work with undergraduates studying First Year Hindi. The First Year Hindi (HIN 506 / 507) also serves as the foundation course for HUF (Hindi-Urdu Flagship).
There remains a multitude of learners in my class with diverse interests in the Hindi Language and consequently with varying degrees of motivations levels. The True Learners are indeed true learners while many of the Heritage Learners view the course as mere “requirement” and something they thought would be quite easy for them to handle.
We must note here that not all students of Indian origin are necessarily Heritage Learners and several of them qualify for the other category viz. The True Learners.
One of my interminable challenges, that I am always able to meet with varying degree of success, remains engendering and instilling in Heritage Learners the desired degree of motivation and correct attitude towards the Target Language.
I am never surprised that the True Learners almost always excel and then pursue Hindi Language on a long term basis.
My chief interests :
1. Types / Kinds of Errors made by learners at various stages (ACTFL levels) of their learning-
For instance, while a Novice High Level Student is likely make errors of basic grammar, the Intermediate High Level student pertaining to the higher registers of Grammar (in the 'Ko' constructions, in 'Contrary to fact Constructions' and in the 'Passive Voice') and Advance, even Superior Level learner is more likely to make errors pertaining to "Acceptability" and "Cultural Appropriateness" in a language (-very important features of any language. )
I also like to explore why a particular error gets made. Many language professors believe that reasons for all errors could not possibly be ascertained. However, I have consistently found it otherwise.
2. Language use :
Is language always used to express ideas / emotions, as is the popular belief / doctrine?
Or is also very frequently used by one adept at it for navigating away from expressing one's true feelings and ideas; and for using it in a circumambulatory way to mislead listeners and impress upon them what the user desires to impress upon them ? Especially by the native speakers.
3.Linguistic change :
I have been witness to it. I am deeply intrigues by it. Not only in the language I teach, but also in English. What was "wonderful" in the 1950s became "mod" in the 60s, "big / super" in the 70s, "hot" in the 80s and then everything became "cool" ! This is just one very small instance, of course.
Something a language instructor is -or ought to be- always learning, modifying, altering and then experimenting with.
5. Hindi Film Songs from the golden era (1950s and 1960s and 1970s):
How wonderfully and most effectively Hindi, Urdu, Persian and Dialectical words / terms and Idiomatic Expressions are blended and used by lyricists.
How much meaning, insight into the Indian way of thinking, subtle points about the culture of the land and its flavor is so easily and yet adeptly communicated through these songs!
Office: HRH 3.102