Hindi Language Blog

Top 10 Cultural Competence Tips Posted by on Jun 30, 2021 in Culture

Holi Celebration

Image by Murtaza Ali from Pixabay

1. Understand

Hindi language भाषा speakers have ways of expressing व्यक्त themselves that may be difficult कठिन to understand. They are used to speaking in a circular परिपत्र manner, to beat about the bush, as we say. But, given time समय one gets used to it.

2. Observe ध्यान से देखना always

Look at the totality समग्रता of communication – body language शरीर की भाषा, tone of voice आवाज़ का लहज़ा, facial expressions चेहरे के भाव, and the words they use. Indians shake their head from side to side in a combination of a yes/no motion to mean, ‘yes’.  When they say no, it is with tinier side-to-side movements of their heads. Observe, the hand gestures हाथ के इशारे. They form a crook with their fingers to call someone कोई व्यक्ति and wave fingers in a dismissive खारिज motion to tell someone to go.

3. Orient yourself

When listening to someone speak Hindi, don’t focus on the accent or grammar. Understand the message as a whole concept, not the individual words and their pronunciation उच्चारण. Don’t forget often, English, Urdu, and Punjabi words are used.

4. Feedback

Check for understanding by repeating दोहरा what they have said in a summary सारांश. Have them express what you have said in their own words. Sometimes, you will hear them say a sentence वाक्य ending with a ‘no’ in question प्रश्न form. This is them, checking for understanding.

5. Strike a balance

If you speak in English, carefully pronounce your words शब्द and speak slowly but not too slowly. Speaking very slowly धीरे से may be offensive.

6. Refrain

Stay away from cultural jokes – they may not be understood समझ में आ. Indians do not take jokes at their cultural सांस्कृतिक peculiarities well from foreign nationals. I remember when Russel Peters, the Toronto-born Indian comedian went to India, he was not received that well.

Also, refrain बचना from the use of idioms. They may be taken literally.

7. Keep it simple

Use simple vocabulary शब्दावली not complex. For example, instead of saying ‘mitigate’ say ‘help’. Although, nowadays there are whole industries उद्योगों geared toward teaching Indians, American English.

8.Use the ‘w’ words

Ask questions using the ‘wh’ words: who, what, where, when and why as these questions elicit simple direct answers जवाब. The norm for Indians is don’t ask, don’t tell. So if you need help मदद or direction दिशा निर्देश it is best to ask as many questions as possible.

9. Be polite

When addressing someone do use प्रयोग करें their full name. Err on the side of caution as some communities समुदाय don’t like being addressed by their first name in formal औपचारिक situations. There is a premium बढ़ौती on honor आदर and rank even in non-military organizations is followed.

10. Take no offense

Don’t be offended अपमानित if you are interrupted as this is common in some cultures, while in others there are long silences शांति in a conversation as this conveys importance महत्त्व to the idea or thought being discussed. Indians love to interrupt a conversation बातचीत without offense, and of course, debate is often welcomed.

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About the Author: Nicole Herbert Dean

Language, Region and Culture Consultant to the Department of Defense and United States Military.