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IWB Takes Lessons From Pallavi Singh, Jacqueline’s Hindi Teacher

  • IWB Post
  •  August 30, 2019


For the first time in my life, I visited the Indian Coffee House on MI Road. Growing up, I had always heard my father brag about the place, but somehow, I never had the chance to go there. Anyway, I am thankful to Pallavi Singh. Well, it was her first time at Indian Coffee House too, so we’re good.

Pallavi has been teaching Hindi to expats in Mumbai for seven years now. She gives one-on-one classes for a total of 25 hours to foreigners who want to get acquainted with our country and the culture. I felt a little conscious of my own Hindi while talking to her.

So what makes your Hindi classes different from the others?

“Honestly, I am so glad you asked me that! Well, my methodology of teaching is different from other classes. I use humor, fun, and childlike activities to make the class interesting. Since it is a new language for everyone in the class, it is best that they are taught like kids in kindergarten or the first grade. I have a rewarding system for the students. I give them gold stars and stickers,” she said showing me her folder full of stickers.



“I also use flashcards to cover different topics, like this for example,” she said showing me a tiny pocket filled with flashcards that had names of movies. “With these movie-names, we play dumb charades. Basically, all I wanted was to make my class interesting.”



And how is it different from translating apps?

“There are times when students directly translate words from online, but in Hindi, it is used in a different sense. Like the word ‘Chai-Pani’ for example. In English, it is directly translated to tea-water. But it actually stands for the word ‘bribe.’ As for language learning apps, they have a set pattern. It gets hard to learn after a while.”

I’ve heard that your first student was from Africa. What was he like? And what did you learn from him?

“Well, he was an exchange student in Delhi. When we first met, he had two questions to ask me. The first one was, ‘What is the difference between parathas and rotis?’ and the second one was, ‘Why do people call me Kalu?’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him what it meant. I guess he did figure out when we were learning about colors. If you ask me what I learned from him, I would say, I’ve learned to be brave. He was courageous enough to come to a country so different from his own.”

 What is your favorite Hindi book?

“I like short stories by Premchand. My favorite is ‘Budhi Kaki.’”

So, lately, everyone in India wants to talk in English. When did Hindi become so unpopular?

“I feel like we’ve grown up with foreign elements being thrown at us. Almost everyone in India knows about the show FRIENDS, but do people outside know about ‘Kasauti Zindagi Ki?’ Even when we write our names in English, we see a red line below it. We’re an economy that is dependent on many countries. We study and go out to work, and that is where we pick up on their culture.”


This hit me hard. 

So do you have a story to share about one of your students that made you proud?

I have so many. I’ll share two *laughs*. There was a student of mine called Amanda from Louisiana who was traveling in an auto in Mumbai. A guy came up to the auto wallah and asked him where Palinaka was. He didn’t ask Amanda because he thought she didn’t know Hindi. Turns out, the auto wallah was lost with directions. Instead, Amanda replied, ‘Seedha phir right lelo.’ She told me later, and I was so happy to know that,” said Pallavi.

 I can imagine the guy making a poker face, lol.

“The second incident was with Alice from Seattle. This happened around the cricket season. Alice was waiting for her driver. He came a little late, so she asked him, ‘Bhaiya, aap late kyun the?’ and he said that he was watching cricket, so they had a little conversation on cricket in Hindi.”

What was the funniest incident?

“Again, so many. There was this incident where I asked the students in their homework, ‘what is your favorite color of lipstick?’ So a student of mine translated it to ‘hoton ki lali ka rang’ *laughs*. Nobody calls it hoton ki lali anymore!”


What do you do about students who are not very fluent in English?

“I try to speak in basic English. I speak as slow as I can and repeat it many times. I know what it is like to not understand a language properly. I have a diploma in French. I remember that the teacher would talk to us in French most of the time and how hard it was for us.”

You’ve taught quite a few celebrities including Jacqueline Fernandez. What are your celebrity clients like?

“Well, I have trained Jacqueline, William Dalrymple, and Natalie Di Luccio. William is a famous novelist, and Natalie is a singer who now sings for Tollywood. I get to see that above all, these celebrities are humans, too. It feels very humbling to teach them. Like all my students, they, too are fun to teach. Natalie has this funny habit that when she gets something wrong, she starts singing. I think that’s her defense mechanism *laughs*.”

Who tends to bunk more, celebrities or regular students? *wiggles eyebrows*

“Celebrities. But I don’t blame them. They have a busy schedule. You can’t ask them not to go to a shoot.”


After the interview, Pallavi showed me some interesting exercises she covers in her class. She handed me one of her fill-in-the-blank worksheets which I will definitely use in my free time. Thanks, Pallavi!


If you have an expat friend who wants to learn how to speak Hindi, you can contact Pallavi on her website. 

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