At 27, Pallavi Singh looks nothing like a drab Hindi language teacher. The former engineer, however, has over the past five years taught colloquial Hindi to over 700 foreigners, including the likes of William Dalrymple, various diplomats and a bevy of Bollywood background dancers.
“Language affects how you are included or excluded in a society. Lot of foreigners who come down to India for work or short assignments are keen on learning Hindi to get them through their basic daily interactions with the local population. They cannot afford to join universities to learn the language and that is where I step in. I teach them colloquial Hindi, which ensures that they can at least hold basic conversations in Hindi with their colleagues or their neighbourhood shopkeepers,” Pallavi Singh said.
A basic module designed by Singh runs into 25 hour-long one-on-one sessions. Most of these classes are held either at the residence of a student or at a coffee shop.
“The people who come to me come from different backgrounds and have different reasons and need for learning the language. I customise my training modules to meet the needs of my students,” Singh says adding that “the idea is to make the interaction practical and intuitive that makes students grasp things quicker.”
Singh, who studied engineering in Delhi, says she had decided early in her life that she wanted to be a language teacher. “In India, if you are not into the top 10 engineering or management schools, then your career trajectory will be long and tedious. During my engineering course itself I had realised that engineering was not meant for me,” Singh says.
Her first student was an African studying in Delhi University in 2011. That year, Singh decided to move to Mumbai.
She adds that dealing with people from various nationalities has not only helped her garner friends from across the globe but also the long interactions she holds with them has allowed her to get a glimpse into their culture and sensibilities.
Singh says her aim is to set up a language school where Indians can learn regional languages.
“We have a lot of people learning foreign languages. However, if a Maharashtrian wants to learn Bengali or a Punjabi wants to learn Oriya, there are not many options. My dream is to set up a school where people can learn regional languages as well,” Singh says.