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One of my favorite things in learning Hindi is when I’m asking someone for help with words and they think I’m asking for instructions for doing the actual deed I want to do. For example…

I want to put plants in our apartment and when I’m planning a trip to the local nursery when I get back from Diwali. I was with one of my language helpers named Kirti trying to learn the words for things like “plant”, “soil”, “pot”, “dirt”, “fertilizer” and some of the questions I will want to ask the shopkeeping at the nursery. Questions like, “Does this plant flower? If so, when?”

Kirti misunderstood in a way that often happens around here – she thought I was asking her how to keep a potted plant. She began, “First, Sarah, you need a pot.”
She paused here to draw a diagram of a pot.
“Next, fill it up about half way or three-fourths of the way with dirt. You can buy that at the nursery.”
Another pause to add dirt to the diagram.
“Now you should put in the fertilizer and the plant.”
Further scribbling into the picture.
Mercifully, she didn’t draw out her next instructions on filling in the rest of the dirt and watering!

This has happened in so many different areas, I wonder if my Hindi-instructing friends really believe I’m this incompetent. They’ve instructed me in the basics of hygiene, cooking (“don’t let it burn”), and numerous other topics. Often the instructions are accompanied by a question like, “Okay, so you don’t know how to take a bath?” or “Didn’t your mother teach you how to cook?”

Sometimes explaining that I know how to do something, just not the way to talk about it in Hindi works… sometimes it doesn’t. I guess a little refresher in the basics never hurt anyone…

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