Zabaan Sambhal Ke

Christoph Dusenbery at the first glance comes across as an archetypal young American living in India fascinated by its culture and civilization. His work profile however makes him unique.

He is a Hindi teacher. Yes, I found it odd too.

As we start talking about how he came around to teaching Hindi, he tells me with a smile “Hum hindi mein bhi baat kar sakte hain.”

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Christoph had been interested in languages, having learnt Spanish early on. In college he took up Asian languages and literature and did a short stint in Sri Lanka which provided the fillip to go on to study Hindi. After few months of Hindi classes at the University he got a scholarship to study Hindi at an advanced level at the American Institute of Indian Studies’ Basic Hindi Program in Jaipur. After another year of rigorous learning he was ready to make the jump to the other side of the classroom.

Collaborating with his two Hindi teachers, he came to Delhi to set up Zabaan, a Hindi-Urdu language school. Ali Taqi and Sayeed Ayub complete the Zabaan trio. Ali is also an American (born to Indian parents) and has more than seven years of teaching experience in Hindi and Urdu both in the States and India. Sayeed, an M.Phil. from JNU, has 6 years of teaching Hindi and Urdu at the American Institute of Indian Studies as well as privately. Christoph candidly admits, “It is taken for granted that if you’re a native speaker you’d be able to teach. In fact it can be beneficial to have someone teach who has gone through the same process.” Making the transition thus has been a smooth process as he is easily able to see what the students are struggling with.

I wonder aloud as to why they felt the need to come to India to teach Hindi. By default most Indians get eliminated as students in Delhi. For them Delhi made more business sense and had more potential for its large foreigner population. All of their Hindi students are foreigners living in Delhi for a while and want to get the hang of the language a little till they are here. Only one of Christoph’s students was an Indian boy brought up in Europe. Setting up a school in the US would mean catering to a very select, niche market plus financially it would not be as viable. Moreover he hopes this would help him improve his own language skills.

Point taken but my skepticism got the better of me as I asked one of the students’ if she would prefer an Indian teacher instead. She indignantly shot off, “No, I think I understand him better than I would an Indian teacher.” Christoph adds, “It does help when I’m working with say American students because I know their boundaries and how to push them but otherwise it is pretty much the same.” He goes on to narrate how he was grilled and tested by the Indian wife of a foreigner who could not digest how he would ever be able to teach Hindi! He currently is taking classes with around 10 students so that leaves little room for raised eyebrows.

They have all devised their own methods of teaching but stick to certain standards and principal procedures. Lessons begin with introduction to script which does tend to take a while and they only prefer to go on once the script has been learnt and understood well. The lessons are modeled depending on the need and inclination of the students. For a non speaker it would take around 3-4 months to be able to speak comfortably. With a knowing look Christoph tells me Hindi is not a very easy language to learn as I get lost amongst the conjugates and compound verbs he is teaching someone.

It is only been a month or so since he began teaching but he looks completely at home and this tryst seems set to continue.

The Zabaan trio at work

-Niha Masih


~ by Niha on November 21, 2009.

2 Responses to “Zabaan Sambhal Ke”

  1. You got it right!!! Ham Hindi Seekh rahe hai? What a perfect start? It could not have been better. I would have loved to see some more photos.

  2. Sounds like a great idea for a school. It is very difficult to find a structured Hindi or Urdu course anywhere. The only two I found are Landour Language school and Kendriya Vidhyalaya Institute but they are not as organized and it’s very difficult to arrange something coming from abroad. Hopefully I can attend this school soon. -ABCD in Miami

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