What is Hindi?
Hindi is an Indo-European language that stems from Sanskrit and has also been greatly influenced by Persian and Arabic.
India is a very diverse country with many cultures and languages, but Hindi is one of the country's official languages and the most widely spoken. Over 60% of Indians understand and speak Hindi.
Hindi is spoken widely in northern India and is the first language of most people living in the following areas:
- Madhya Pradesh
- Uttar Pradesh
- Himachal Pradesh
The rest of North India also speaks and understands Hindi but most people will speak it as their second language. South Indians are the LEAST likely to speak and understand Hindi.
If you are traveling on a Golden Triangle tour, you will visit the cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur all of which speak Hindi as their first language.
Learning Hindi Before You Travel
Learning Hindi is something that is NOT necessary for travelers. Most people in India, especially those in the tourism industry, can understand and speak English very well.
However, if you do learn a few phrases in Hindi, you may impress the locals and even get better deals from vendors.
That being said:
It is not practical for travelers to learn Hindi basics and grammar rules before arriving in India. Instead, a good way to start is to memorize certain key phrases that you can practice during your trip.
How to Say Hello in Hindi
There are many different ways to say hello in Hindi ranging from the very formal to the very informal. It's best if you choose a few to practice during your travels.
Namaste (pronounced: nam-as-stay)
This is the traditional way of saying hello and goodbye in Hindi. Namaste can be used at any time of the day. You may also hear some people say namaskar (nam-as-scar) which can be used interchangeably with namaste.
One important thing to note is that namaste is a very respectful and formal way of saying hello. Today many young people in India will just use the English salutations and save namaste for elders or highly respected individuals.
The greeting namaste is traditionally said with your hands together in front of your chest and a slight bow to show respect. If you master this, the locals will think you are very polite.
Hello, my name is _______.
Namaste, mera nam _______ hai. (pronounced: Nam-as-tay me-ra nam _______ hey)
This phrase is sure to impress anyone you meet and is a good way to introduce yourself at a hotel front desk or to a local you would like to start a conversation with.
Suprabhat (pronounced: soop-ra-bhat)
Suprabhat is the traditional Hindi way to say good morning.
This word can be a little difficult to pronounce because it has the 'bh' sound which is uncommon in English. This sound is pronounced by starting to say the 'buh' sound and then pushing more air out to make a 'huh' sound immediately afterward.
Subha dina (pronounced: soob-ha dee-na)
This is the traditional way to say good afternoon. Many people will also use namaste for this greeting.
How are you?
Aap kaisey ho (pronounced: ahp kay-say ho)
This is a nice way to informally greet someone you have met a few times while still staying respectful and showing interest in that person's well-being.
If you are interested in chatting more with the locals then this is a good phrase to get you started.
Kya chal raha hai (pronounced: kee-ya chal ra-ha hey)
This is a more modern and informal way to greet someone and ask what is going on in their lives. This is a great way to greet friends, close family members, or people similar in age to you.
How to Say Goodbye in Hindi
After learning some ways to say hello, our next important step is learning how to say goodbye.
In more formal settings the word namaste with hands folded in front of you and a slight bow can be used to say goodbye, but there are also a few other ways you can practice.
Alvida (pronounced: Al-vee-duh)
This is a common way to say goodbye especially if you will not see the other person again for a long time or maybe ever. This word is borrowed from Urdu, Hindi's sister language, and is formal and serious-sounding.
In informal settings or when saying goodbye just for a short time, many Indians will use English phrases such as 'bye' or 'see you'.
Alvida and Namaste are common ways to say goodbye
See You Later
Phir milenge (pronounced: fur mil-ang-ay)
This is an expression that can be used for all occasions especially for informal partings between friends or acquaintances.
How to Buy Things in Hindi
The situation that travelers use Hindi the most is when shopping in local markets and buying souvenirs. In all stores where prices are not written on items, it is perfectly acceptable to barter and the seller will likely quote a high price initially to see if you will pay it.
How much is this?
Yah kitne hai (pronounced: yay kit-na hey)
This phrase is best expressed when holding an item or pointing to an item in the store. But be prepared! If you ask, you are entering into a bartering session so it's a good idea to only ask the price on items you are honestly thinking of buying.
If the price they give is too expensive, a good bartering tactic is to walk away or put the item down.
Bahut mahanga hai (pronounced: ba-huat may-hen-ga hey)
Most Indian vendors will understand the English word 'expensive', but it is still fun to say it in Hindi and try to show them that you know a little bit about the local culture and can't be so easily fooled.
I'll take it
Dijiye (pronounced: dee-gee-yay)
This word translates literally to 'give' in English and is commonly said when you have accepted the price and would like to purchase the item.
Other important Phrases to Know in Hindi
Haa (pronounced: ha with an elongated ah noise at the end)
Nah hi (pronounced: nah-hee)
Naa (pronounced: nah with an elongated ah sound at the end)
Kripaya (pronounced: crip-ee-ya)
This is a great word to use to sound polite works very well when traveling in rural India. You can add kripaya to the beginning of your English sentences when asking for directions or information to sound respectful.
Shukriya (pronounced: shu-cree-ya)
Dhanyavaad (pronounced: dhun-yuh-vad)
Dhanyavaad is the more formal word for thank you. This phrase is taken directly from the ancient Sanskrit language and is not often used.
Say Shukriya or Dhanyavaad to thank someone for their services
The more common word for thank you is shukriya which is considered more colloquial and is also easier to pronounce for English speakers.
Excuse me/I'm sorry
Maaf keejiye (pronounced: maf kee-gee-yay)
India has a lot of people so if you are taking public transportation or walking on a busy street, you might find yourself needing the word 'excuse me'. However, in Hindi, there is no direct translation for this English phrase.
Instead, people are likely to say 'I'm sorry' as they push past which in Hindi is maaf keejiye. This phrase can also be used if you need to interrupt someone or get their attention to ask a question.
Being Polite with Honorifics in Hindi
In Indian culture, there is a large emphasis on respect and formality. Because of this, Hindi includes a lot of honorifics or titles that are used to show respect to someone based on their societal position or age.
When speaking Hindi to someone who is older than you or of higher social standing, it is considered rude to use their first name. Instead, there are a few different honorifics that can be used in different situations.
One honorific that you will hear most when visiting India is the word ji (pronounced like the English letter 'G'). Ji can be used for people of both genders and is placed at the end of someone's name to indicate your respect for that person.
For example, Gandhi, the famous Indian political activist, is often referred to as Gandhiji by Indians.
Auntie and Uncle
For many occasions, ji can sound too respectful and formal. If you want to refer to someone who is older than you, you can use the terms 'auntie' or 'uncle'. Indians will often refer to women middle-aged and older as aunties and men of the same age as uncles.
Bhaiya and Didi
If the person is close to the same age as you but still a little older or of a higher social standing then you can use the terms brother or sister which in Hindi are bhaiya (pronounced like by-ya) for elder brother and didi (pronounced like deedee) for elder sister.
What Other Languages are Spoken in India?
Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India and almost every person in the country learns Hindi in school, however, because India is such a diverse nation most states also have their own languages. For example, in the state of Assam, most people speak Assamese and in the state of Bengal, most people speak Bengali.
Even though every state has its own language, travelers speaking Hindi will be easily understood in most of North India.
But South India is a different story.
There is a large cultural divide between North and South India and some of the southern states do not believe that they should have to learn Hindi as it is not the language of their ancestors. Therefore, many South Indians do not speak Hindi or learn it in school.
Luckily, in these states, English is spoken very fluently. Most travelers have few issues when communicating with English in South India.