As a non-native speaker, I have struggled to learn Hindi and to teach Hindi to my child. My native language and English, both of which I am proficient in, do not have the grammatical gender system of Hindi, where even non living things have genders that change the form of the verb used with them. And it is in this gender system of Hindi, many learners meet their Waterloo. In this post, I am mentioning the tips which helped me as an adult to understand the Hindi grammatical gender system.
When the medium of instruction is NOT Hindi
When the child is from a non Hindi speaking family, lives in a society where Hindi is not too prevalent, and the medium of instruction at school is not Hindi, it is difficult to pick up correct Hindi!
I grew up as a third culture kid in my own country. I come from a non Hindi speaking family. We lived in a town in Central-North India, but our town was a post-independence factory township, populated by people from all over India who had come there to work in the factory. People who spoke native-level proficient Hindi, were a minority. So we were a township of "expats" with residents who spoke a variety of Indian languages. At school, our medium of instruction was English. So the textbook contents, assessment, and communication were all in English.
We did have Hindi as a subject. As all non-Hindi-speaking state natives will know, the rote method of learning that was applied back then didn't exactly help us to learn good Hindi. We learned, as all little humans do, from hearing and repeating, the hybridized dialects our parents, our friends, and people around spoke in the society. As I grew up, I realized that in spite of "knowing" Hindi, and having grown up in North India, I spoke terrible Hindi, because my gender fundamentals were not clear and I had not listened to native-level Hindi in daily life. Back then, we did not even have TV until I was quite grown up.
What is gender in Hindi grammar?
“Gender in linguistics is a system of classification of noun words. It is not related to biological sex, it is related to the rules which govern the agreement of a category of noun with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, pronouns, or verbs. Many languages have two categories, some have more. In many languages, the two categories are called feminine and masculine genders. In Hindi, all nouns, like cow, table, building, etc., belong to one of the two categories. Many Indian languages have different gender agreement rules.
As per Google translate, we can see how three languages of India translate "He goes. She goes."
When the noun belongs to a certain category in Hindi, then it dictates what forms of verbs, pronouns, adjectives, will either precede or follow it. So while मेरा and मेरी both mean "my" or "mine", "मेरा" is a masculine pronoun word while मेरी is a feminine pronoun word. But they do not refer to the owner's gender. I am a woman, but "my shoe" will not be "मेरी जूता" - it will be मेरा जूता - in agreement with the gender of the object (here my possession जूता) which is a masculine word.
How you can brush up your own Hindi gender
If you are unsure about how to improve your application of the gender rules in your spoken Hindi, here are two suggestions:
Listen Mindfully - It is important to listen to good Hindi, to speak good Hindi. So if you want to improve your Hindi, watch good quality videos or listen to good podcasts. Whenever you listen to or read Hindi (movies, news, books, magazines, conversation with native speakers, etc.), make a mental note of the association of the noun with the pronoun or verb. When we hear (and learn) the words in their grammatical context, we develop that sense which tells us, 'this sounds right' and 'this does not sound right'.
Useful Sites: For a slightly deeper insight, without going too deep into grammar textbooks, these articles are useful
How to teach your child the gender of noun words they are learning
The easiest way to learn the gender of Hindi nouns is not to memorize, but actually to hear them.
It is very difficult to memorize the gender of each word without context and then apply the various grammar rules in sentences.
For example, the words चिड़िया and पक्षी both mean "Bird". However, चिड़िया is feminine and पक्षी is masculine. So, according to the rules of gender -
चिड़िया उड़ती है, पक्षी उड़ता है, (verb depends on the gender of the doer)
यह मेरी चिड़िया है, यह उसका पक्षी है, (prepositioned possessive pronoun depends on the gender of the noun following it)
यह बड़ा पक्षी है, यह छोटी चिड़िया है (adjective depends on the gender of the noun)
So you see, it is not possible for a child to learn all of these by memorizing. The best way is to, right from the start, use gender determiners with the noun words the child is learning. So the moment, you say chidiya, add, chhoti chidiya or chidiya ud rahi hai, so that the gender of the word is internalized and the child learns the instinct of what sounds right.
Please know that this is an ongoing process for non-native speakers, and I still make mistakes, and my child too is not accurate in using Hindi gender rules.
Therefore, if you are a non-native speaker of Hindi, and want your child to learn "good Hindi", make sure when you are teaching them words, put the words into grammatical context. So they will automatically learn that चिड़िया उड़ती है, मोर नाचता है, यह मेरी माँ है (regardless of the speaker's gender), यह मेरा भाई है (regardless of the speaker's gender), कितना बड़ा पहाड़ है, कितनी प्यारी बिल्ली है, and so on.
How to teach the gender context for kids
1. Keep a set of adjectives in your mind - big (bada/badi), small (chhota/chhoti), sweet (meetha, meethi) etc. Similarly, verb with ee sound is feminine, and aa sound is masculine. Like walks - chalati hai (f) and chalata hai (m).
2. Find the gender of the noun from a dictionary. I use these 3 dictionaries.
The link to the digital dictionary app is Hindi Shabdkosh on Google Play.
3. Then, use the noun with either a verb or an adjective so that the child hears the noun in a gender context. So Meethaa Aam (sweet mango), Khatti Imli (sour tamarind), etc.
This simple approach will hugely improve your child's grip on Hindi gender rules, more than any rote learning can do!
I hope this article has given you a basic idea about the grammatical gender system of Hindi. Remember, you should teach your child new words along with the gender of the word - not as "this is masculine, this is feminine", but by applying the word in a sentence that demonstrates its gender.
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