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Meet CLS Hindi Instructor Neelam Singh

Nee­lam Singh is an instruc­tor for the 2021 CLS Vir­tu­al Hin­di pro­gram host­ed by the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Indi­an Stud­ies (AIIS). Hav­ing worked for AIIS in India for most of her career, Nee­lam Ji has inter­act­ed with well over 1,000 U.S. stu­dents who come to Jaipur, India each sum­mer to learn Hin­di. Nee­lam Ji recent­ly spoke with the CLS team to share her thoughts on teach­ing Hindi. 

What has been your favorite part of teaching?

My favorite thing about teach­ing the stu­dents is that I not only teach stu­dents, but that I learn from stu­dents too. It seems to me that I might have learned more from them than I have taught. Part of this relates to how to teach. In the Indi­an teach­ing sys­tem, teach­ers often enter the class­room, lec­ture, and leave with­out too many inter­ac­tive ses­sions. This is slow­ly chang­ing but work­ing with US stu­dents I have learned to expect stu­dents to ask the ques­tions that come to their mind. I had to get used to being able to admit that I didn’t always imme­di­ate­ly know the answers to why some­thing is a cer­tain way, but these ques­tions inspired me to keep learn­ing more and grow as a teacher. Hav­ing to reflect on stu­dent ques­tions I would nev­er have con­sid­ered feels real­ly good to me – I am teach­ing, but at the same time I am also being chal­lenged to keep learn­ing as well. This is real­ly important.

Nee­lam Ji gives stu­dent a high five dur­ing class. 

How do you find teach­ing virtually?

I like the vir­tu­al pro­gram a lot, though of course there are both good and bad parts. In the in-per­son pro­gram, we get to have a lot of inter­ac­tion with the stu­dents. When we teach, we have room to walk around and we can see what each stu­dent is doing. Now, we teach­ers can only see four peo­ple at a time on the screen which is a bit both­er­some. Still, to me, vir­tu­al teach­ing isn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly strange or dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. Look­ing at the stu­dents’ progress, the in-per­son and vir­tu­al pro­gram are quite com­pa­ra­ble. In the past, my begin­ning-lev­el stu­dents usu­al­ly pass to the inter­me­di­ate lev­el by the end of the pro­gram. Last year in the 8‑week vir­tu­al pro­gram most begin­ning-lev­el stu­dents also passed to the inter­me­di­ate lev­el. In that sense, the lan­guage growth seems about equal and I am con­fi­dent that most stu­dents in this vir­tu­al year’s vir­tu­al pro­gram will reach the inter­me­di­ate lev­el by the end of the sum­mer as well.

The indi­vid­ual con­nec­tions are a spe­cial part of the pro­gram. Some peo­ple come from such dif­fer­ent aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground, such dif­fer­ent places and meet here and become friends. Some peo­ple have got­ten so close that after com­ing here, they mar­ry oth­er stu­dents from the pro­gram, then have kids. See­ing those con­nec­tions always feels real­ly good for me.

Do you have any spe­cial mem­o­ries or sto­ries from this summer?

This sum­mer, there is one new thing. When we are in class, when some­one says some­thing wrong, I write it on the board and ask anoth­er stu­dent, is this cor­rect?’ They say, yes this is cor­rect,’ but in their mind they think that I am try­ing to play a trick on them. So Nee­lam Ji’s trick­ery’ is a fun new phrase this year. Even when a stu­dent gives a cor­rect answer and I ask the oth­er stu­dents if it is cor­rect, they always ask, are you trick­ing on us?’ They live in that mind­set that when­ev­er I ask a ques­tion, it must be a trick question. 

Anoth­er sto­ry is that one day, I had a pow­er out­age and I didn’t think I would be able to teach class­es that day because my com­put­er only holds two hours of charge and I had three hours of class to teach. My first class was indi­vid­ual con­sul­ta­tion with Anna and I told her to tell her class­mates that for the next class, I might not be able to come because there is no pow­er at my house and her group should join the oth­er begin­ning class. She protest­ed not hav­ing class togeth­er and made such an effort to explain to me how to use Zoom on my phone. It was very hard to teach with­out screen­shar­ing mate­ri­als, but I still felt real­ly nice that she is just an excit­ed young stu­dent try­ing to explain to me how to do this. That felt good for me that the stu­dents didn’t just think, ok, how will we do class now.’ When the stu­dents coop­er­ate and help the teach­ers, that gives me a lot of ener­gy. In the end, my pow­er came back and I was able to teach all the class­es, but still. You know, we are sit­ting miles apart and some­times you feel a sense of alone­ness or that stu­dents are not think­ing of you, but it is not like that.

The indi­vid­ual con­nec­tions are a spe­cial part of the pro­gram. Some peo­ple come from such dif­fer­ent aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground, such dif­fer­ent places and meet here and become friends. Some peo­ple have got­ten so close that after com­ing here, they mar­ry oth­er stu­dents from the pro­gram, then have kids. See­ing those con­nec­tions always feels real­ly good for me. I had two stu­dents in the past who met in the pro­gram– they met here and then they got mar­ried and they now have a real­ly cute daugh­ter. When­ev­er I go on Insta­gram, I always see her pic­ture at the top, and it always makes me feel nice.

Nee­lam Ji pic­tured sec­ond from left with her stu­dents at Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Indi­an Stud­ies (AIIS) in Jaipur.

Hav­ing worked with so many stu­dents, can you share what some of the more com­mon rea­sons that stu­dents have for want­i­ng to study Hindi?

I can give many rea­sons for why they want to study Hin­di, like as a lin­guis­tic vari­ety Hin­di is the fourth most spo­ken lan­guage in the world or Hin­di is the lin­gua fran­ca of the Hin­di belt and to less­er extent oth­er parts of India, etc. But besides these great sound­ing rea­sons, I think Bol­ly­wood has a cru­cial role to play. Many of the stu­dents dur­ing my long career of teach­ing have report­ed that their inter­est in Hin­di devel­oped after watch­ing Hin­di movies.

*The suf­fix Ji is a gen­der-neu­tral term added to the end of names in the Hin­di and Pun­jabi lan­guages to show respect. 


Posted Date

October 05, 2021

Language

Hindi

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