I have always excelled at learning languages, but didn't really get a lot of encouragement around it growing up. In fact, I remember being excited about receiving "All As" in Spanish on my report card and someone said that it was a"foo foo subject" and that I should focus more on improving my Cs in math. Flash forward to today and my math is fine (Thanks, Google Sheets!), and I can speak quite a bit of Spanish, some French, a hint of Hebrew and can say "thank you" in about 15 other languages. And that's just scratching the surface of the 7,000 total estimated languages spoken around the world!
Out of all the languages I dabble in, Spanish has helped me tremendously in my life. It's enabled me to get an awesome job fundraising for Latino families at the local children's hospital, communicate with homeless men and women in my neighborhood who don't speak English, supported my missions work at Camp Possible for empowering young women amputees in the Dominican Republic, and of course, it's alwaaaaays fun to practice when on vacation down in Mexico. I get pretty pumped about the bridges built during these conversations. To put it simply, trying to understand another language is a bit like solving a math problem for me. But the outcome of "solving for x" isn't a numerical formula, it's the beautiful opportunity to connect with another person. Precious memories from my time at Camp Possible with young women Lilli and Saira (below) wouldn't have been possible without my ability to effectively communicate in Spanish. That's my kind of math.
Anyways, up until last week, I knew Zero words in Hindi, the second most spoken language in the world, which originated in India. And Hindi isn't even the only language spoken in India ---.there are an estimated 457 languages spoken in this ancient nation steeped with history and cultural significance. Given my background teaching yin and restorative yoga and obsession with my friend Aakanksha's BollyPop class, it felt important to dive deeper into a better understanding of Indian culture and the Hindi language.
This desire to keep learning led me to register for a Beginner Hindi class with language start-up company, Lingua Castle, which is taught by my dear friend Archit Ojha. Archit and I met at a conference hosted by Google Maps and have been friends ever since. For the past 10 years or so, the Local Guides team at Google has created a highly engaged community with more than 120 million individuals around the world who write reviews, update maps and share photos on the Google Maps platform. In 2019, just 200 people from 60 countries were selected to attend their annual conference in Silicon Valley and I am honored to share that I was one of them. The conference was cancelled last year due to the global pandemic, so I'm grateful that Archit and I had the chance to meet there before everything shut down.
Just one week before the coronavirus pressed pause on the planet, Archit had the chance to visit my husband and I at our home in Santa Monica. We hosted he and a few of his other local friends for a special dinner together, not knowing that this would be one of our last social interactions with friends for a very, very long time. Archit is one of the most enthusiastic people I've ever met so I was not surprised when he messaged me on Instagram and told me he had founded his own language start-up company to share his love of languages with others. Naturally, he's a polyglot himself and speaks an astounding 9 languages!
One of the best things about studying Hidi with Lingua Castle is that he and his co-founder Pooja are naturally gifted teachers. Even though they both reside in Raipur, Chhattisgarh in India, we met for class virtually on Zoom, which seamlessly connected us from 8,500 miles away across many, many time zones! To give you an idea of how committed Archit and Pooja are to teaching others, they hosted the class at 2:00am their time. They stayed up all night so that I could learn! Archit and Pooja were patient, encouraging and kind with me as I stumbled through the first few words of this unfamiliar, new language! They also taught me a lot about India's rich cultural history, the fight for independence from British rule, their obsession with the most famous cricket player Sachin Tendulkar and other important-to-know societal norms. For example, they don't have words in the Hindi language for boyfriend/girlfriend and the concept of "privacy" is non-existent. There isn't even a word for "privacy" in the Hindi language!
Even though I sounded like a lil baby learning how to say "dada," I've found that having a beginner's attitude is the best way to learn something new. It's important to throw fear out the window and not be afraid to make a mistake! And of course, practice, practice practice. After our first session together, Archit provided me with a 50+ page deck with detailed instructions on how to practice at home. I'm wading through that little by little and consulting my notes. I still have a long way to go, but I'm grateful I can now confidently introduce myself in Hindi (Mein Ashley Hoon) and of course, say dhanyawaad to Archit and Pooja after each lesson.
Am I going to use Hindi every day in my life? Mmmm, yea, probably nahi. However, when Josh and I watched The White Tiger on Netflix the other night, I noticed that my ears were actually picking up quite a few of the words I'd learned the weekend before. But listen. I think challenging ourselves to learn something new, support our friends' initiatives and better connect with others is generally a good practice to grow our hearts and expand our minds. If you're interested in learning a challenging new language, I highly recommend reaching out to Archit at Lingua Castle to schedule a lesson. You might discover a whole new world!