Teach Yourself Hindi (with CDs)

1 Hindi, Books, Multimedia

Revised April 8, 2013

Authors  Rupert Snell, Simon Weightman
Series  Teach Yourself
Publisher  McGraw-Hill
Publication Date  2003
Price  $29.95
Skill Level  Beginner, Intermediate

The book part of this Teach Yourself Hindi book-CD combo package starts out: “This course is designed to enable those with no previous knowledge of Hindi to learn to read, write and converse in the language with confidence and enjoyment. The course has also proved effective as teaching material for both class tuition and individual study.”

I abandoned Teach Yourself Hindi by page 26. I would like to take you through the process that led to that abandonment, because it underscores in my opinion the triumph of form over content in the language-learning marketplace and therefore matters very much to me and to other people trying to learn languages.

On page 3, I was informed that the book includes 37 dialogues involving the Kumar family of Delhi and their guest Pratap of London, and that many of the exercises are part of this familial narrative. I groaned mentally when I saw that. That is an awful lot of commitment to a single family I’ve never met.

The syllabary for Hindi was introduced on page 7, in font so small my eyeballs nearly fell out of my head. Can publishers making foreign-language books with different writing systems please make letters and words big enough so that people—especially people who are just starting out—can read them? It is really, really hard to read unfamiliar symbols with unfamiliar swirls. A totally different experience for a neophyte than for a native or fluent speaker-reader.

On page 11, after lists of consonants and vowels had just ended, I was told, “Just when you thought you had mastered the script, along come the conjunct characters.” (Conjuncts are combination characters.) Well, folks, I did not master the script—how and when could that possibly have happened?—so that was irksome. 

On page 13, in a very delicate stage of the language-learning process, I was given a table of 100 (!) of the most common conjuncts. 

On page 16 in a pronunciation section, I encountered the following impenetrable excerpt: “There are occasions when an inherent vowel is not pronounced in the middle of a word, even though the spelling involves no conjunct. As a general rule, the inherent vowel remains silent in the second syllable of a word whose third character either includes a vowel sign…or is followed by a fourth syllable….This rule does not apply when the second or third syllable of the word has a conjunct.”

On page 20, I got my first dialogue starring Pratap and one of his hosts, in the tiniest of Hindi font. Deadly tiny. But even if it had been bigger, I still wouldn’t have been able to read it, because I was brand new to the language, and listing consonants and vowels and conjuncts would not have taught me how to read them.

On page 26, I was given little snippets of Hindi and told to use them to fill in the blanks in a series of Hindi sentences. In the margin I wrote: “How the hell am I supposed to do this? I can’t read Hindi!” 

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how a language-learning undertaking gets abandoned.

I would like to mention that one of the authors, Rupert Snell, wrote another McGraw-Hill book that I really liked, entitled Teach Yourself Beginner’s Hindi Script. It falls under the same Teach Yourself umbrella as this one, but unlike this one, it is very clear.

This particular Teach Yourself Hindi product is part of a combination book-CD series that McGraw-Hill puts out for multiple languages. Each such product is wrapped in a cute clear plastic package that showcases the fact that you get a book along with the two CDs (while also making the combination look much bigger than it needs to be), and the spine misleadingly reads “Complete Audio CD Program.” I have reviewed three so far, including this one along with Arabic and Greek, and I regard all of them as spectacular failures.

The bizarre inattention in all three of these packages to how humans learn makes me suspect, though I have no way of knowing this for sure, that there is an unworkable format being mandated from the McGraw-Hill side, one focused more on marketing ambitions than on actual learning efficacy. 

Addendum: Since I used this product, it has gone out of print, and McGraw-Hill has issued an updated version under the name Complete Hindi with Two Audio CDs: A Teach Yourself Guide. Recently I looked through a copy at Barnes & Noble. The layout has improved, but the table of contents is virtually identical, meaning one is still going to be at the endless mercy of the Kumar family and Pratap.

Don't Buy This
Don't Buy This

Comments (3)

Meera • Posted on Sat, August 16, 2014 - 5:48 pm EST

Hello Ellen, ,my name is Meera. I follow you on FB and I love your blog! I have been studdying Hindi since I was fourteen years old, for about ten years and I have a very high level in it. I have even taken courses in Hindi. I’m orginally from Afghanistan so my language is close to Hindi. But I just wanted to say out of all Hindi resources I have used, and I have used probably all of them, this book has been the best. I have been through this book numerous times and still use from time to time. To me it has been extremely valuable. No other textbooks really compare to it. I’m not sure if you are done with Hindi or not but I think you should try to go back to this book.  Most Hindi classes and textbooks do not teach conjucts, actually the conjucts get easy when you master the Hindi script because they are easy to read and you pick them up naturally. That is how my Hindi class learned them. We never went over them, only if it was in a reading. The dialouges also do not only revolve around the Kumar family, whne you get further into the book there is a dioauge between a boss and his assitant, Pratap and his school teacher, an author and his assitant. The book reads like an Indian soap opera which was intential. The book also teaches Persian loanword as well as the Sanskrit ones which is rare to find in a Hindi text. Most texts go into very high sanskrit words that no one uses. Unlike most textbooks, they stop giving you the transliteration after chapter five, which is awesome, it forces you to learn, the training wheels are off. The book also teaches real everyday Hindi that you will here in Delhi and Mumbai. When I finished this book, I could understand Hindi songs, Hindi TV shows,  and movies without much trouble. Also Hindi font is generally that small, if you read Hindi newspapers it’s almost the exact same size. Also the course goes hand in hand with Begginers Hindi and Beginners Hindi Script, which helps clear up any Script trouble. But this book has been so useful to me for Hindi, every other book seems to so badly done or not engough information. This course is dense and covers so much of Hindi grammar that most courses don’t even scratch the surface of.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, August 16, 2014 - 8:16 pm EST

Meera! Hello there, I know who you are. It is so nice of you to visit over here! :)

Your comments on this book were thorough and thoughtful and extremely relevant. It fascinates and amazes me that your reaction to it is so radically different from mine. I do hope to go back to Hindi one of these days, and I will keep what you said in mind.

Is your native language Dari? I am doing lessons in that right now as part of my general Persian studies!

Meera • Posted on Sun, August 17, 2014 - 9:37 pm EST

Hello Ellen, thanks I actually just found your site and I really love all the reviews and tips on here. :) I really did love this book but I used it with a class, so I’m not sure if that’s why I loved it so much. :P I can understand Dari very well and I can have a conversation in it but my native language is Pashto. My family is Kandahari :)

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