Vidya Nahar doing yoga on a beach

Interview with Vidya Nahar, Author and STARTALK Instructor

Interview conducted by Greg Nedved

  • Please provide some background about Balodyan 

I grew up in Mumbai, India, speaking 5 languages fluently (Marwadi – my mother tongue, Marathi, Hindi, English, Gujarat, and 4 languages at functional proficiency – Kutchi, Konkani, Sanskrit, Urdu), just by interacting with neighbors, watching movies, reading newspapers, and of course by learning in school. We were taught Marathi, Hindi, English, and Sanskrit in our school in Mumbai. I felt deeper connections with my neighbors, friends when I communicated with them in their languages. 

Image from Twitter

When my daughters were born in the USA, they had no such exposure to multi-lingual environment around them. It was English everywhere – school, media, friends, library, etc. I wanted my daughters to learn at least one language other than English fluently. So I started teaching Hindi to my daughters and their friends through Balodyan based in my basement starting in 1998 through songs, plays, stories, speech and video presentations. I added Marathi instruction also to these classes. I wrote more than 100 short skits, songs, stories to teach these languages playfully, engaging all senses of the learners in my classes. Through Balodyan we started presenting cultural programs in Hindi and Marathi at our local libraries to celebrate India’s Independence Day and Republic Day. Balodyan working in collaboration with Chinmaya Mission, Chicago has conducted 7 Hindi STARTALK summer camps since 2011 instructing Hindi to about 50 students every year at no cost to the students, as these camps have been supported by the STARTALK grants. Balodyan’s Hindi & Marathi classes for adults and kids are now conducted live online. This is Balodyan’s 23rd year of continuous operation. Please see more information at balodyan.com

  • Please provide some background on the books, Laalii’s One Day and My Swing

Laalii’s One Day is a rhyming book depicting a day in Laalii’s (a red kite – since red is laal in Hindi, and a kite is feminine in gender in Hindi, so her name is Laalii) life. It tells the story of what happens when once Laalii flies in the sky, who she meets, what they do, what they see, what happens in the night, through numbers, colors, and simple sentences naming everyday objects. I was inspired to write this story in 2012, when I saw a picture on a children’s book depicting rural life in Japan. I then translated Laalii’s One Day in Marathi as Laaluu’s One Day (since red is laal in Marathi, too, and a kite is masculine in gender in Marathi, so his name is Laaluu in Marathi version). I got these pictures professionally illustrated by finding an artist in India through Guru.com. I also translated this story later in English and Gujarati.

“My Swing: was a fun show and tell project for one of our STARTALK teacher training online assignments in 2020. I have been practicing yoga since 1980, and teaching yoga since 2004 out of my home studio (vyayam.com). I have a yoga swing installed in my basement for aerial yoga. So I asked my daughter to take my pictures in different yoga stretches, sitting, swinging on the swing, and that became my show and tell illustration in Hindi and Marathi for my students!

Later in 2020, I reached my family, friends, colleagues, and their acquaintances around the world to help me translate these two books in multiple world languages in the E-book format. With all of our collaborations, the My Swing book has now been translated in more than 30 world languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Ukrainian, etc. , and Laalii’s One Day has been translated in more than 20 world languages, such as, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian,  Sanskrit, Spanish, Ukrainian, etc.

  • What is your foreign language background?

I grew up in Mumbai, India, speaking 5 languages fluently (Marwadi – my mother tongue, Marathi, Hindi, English, Gujarat, and 4 languages at functional proficiency – Kutchi, Konkani, Sanskrit, Urdu), just by interacting with neighbors, watching movies, reading newspapers, and of course by learning in school. I started teaching Hindi and Marathi to kids and adults in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in 1998, got my first STARTALK (startalk.umd.edu) Hindi teacher training at UPenn in 2010, and got my first STARTALK grant to run a free Hindi summer camp for 50 students in Chicago area. Since 1998 I have taught Hindi to thousands of kids and adults over the years through my private institution Balodyan, and through STARTALK summer Hindi camps in collaboration with Chinmaya Mission.

  • How did you get involved with Balodyan?

I started it in 1998 to teach Hindi and Marathi to my kids and their friends initially. Then word got out, more families started sending their kids, as there was definitely a big void in the field of Hindi instruction back then. Now many more institutions / teachers are offering Hindi instruction around the country, and even from India via online learning platforms.

  • What is your philosophy towards language instruction?

I have always believed in learning language playfully through songs, stories, skits, games. After my participation in several teacher training programs offered by STARTALK, I now implement STARTALK’s learning principles in my classrooms, offering differentiated learning experiences to meet learners where they are, to increase their functional competency. 

  • How did you get involved with STARTALK? 

I had taken my Hindi students to perform a play at the World Hindi Conference that was being held in Chicago in 2010. The director of that conference was very impressed. He had learnt about the free Hindi teacher training being offered by STARTALK at UPenn that year. He forwarded that email to me. I jumped at the opportunity, as before that I had no formal training in the field of language education. I thoroughly enjoyed my teacher training, and applied for the STARTALK summer Hindi camp grant that same fall. I received the grant for the 2011 summer program to be run by Balodyan. Since then I’ve directed six more STARTALK summer Hindi programs for learners in Chicago area. This year our STARTALK program is completely online with learners participating from 8 states, and teachers collaborating from 3 states! STARTALK completely changed my life and philosophy of teaching and learning.

  • What has been your biggest challenge writing your books?

Writing books has not been a challenge. Getting these published through a formal channel has been a challenge.

  • How has COVID affected your work? 

COVID actually helped me connect with many collaborators around the world to get my two small picture books translated in more than 30 languages in the online format.

  • What is the status of Indian language study in the United States? 

Very few public or private schools offer instruction in Indian languages at K-16 level, while many universities do offer instruction in Hindi / Urdu, and a few other Indian languages. 

  • What is the biggest misconception Americans have about learning Indian languages?

I am not sure what misconception Americans have about learning Indian languages, as I have never conducted any such survey. However I have noticed almost zero interest in Americans for sending their kids to our free STARTALK summer Hindi programs that we conduct for young learners of ages 8 to 10. Over the years 98% of our participants have been of Indian heritage, who speak English at home growing up in USA.

  • What do you think should be the role of a language museum (such as the National Museum of Language)?

National Museum of Language should actively promote diversity of world languages that are currently spoken in the USA by millions of immigrants coming in the country from around the world, by showcasing literary works in these languages, conducting and publishing annual surveys around the country checking the status of different languages being spoken in the country, and by collaborating with different language institutions (school and community based) to offer cultural programs in these languages.

  • How can the National Museum of Language best support your language initiatives?

I’ve written more than 100 children’s songs / plays / stories in Hindi / Marathi. I would love to see those published on your site.

  • What other points do you wish to make in this interview?

National Museum of Languages is a wonderful initiative for celebrating language diversity around the world and in the USA. I’m thrilled to be a part of this initiative. Thank you for inviting me to offer my contribution. I wish National Museum of Languages flourishing success.

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Fanni is Radnóti's wife
Located near the Tang capital city of Chang’an, site of the modern city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, in central China.
Soldiers of that time commonly wore a white head cloth, similar to what is still worn by some peasants in China today.  The implication is that the conscripts were so young that they didn’t know how to wrap their head cloths, and needed help from elders.
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
The area of Guanxi, meaning “west of the passes”, refers to the area around the capital city of Chang’an.
This is an alternative name for a province in western China, now known as Qinghai, which literally means “blue sea”.  Kokonor Lake, located in Qinghai, is the largest saline lake in China.  
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
Oulart Hollow was the site of a famous victory of the Irish rebels over British troops, which took place on May 27, 1798. The rebels killed nearly all the British attackers in this battle. (Source: Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. H. H. Bohn, London 1854, pp 92-93, at archive.org)
The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.

Ghetto


An Italian word meaning “foundry.” It originally referred to a part of the city of Venice where the Jews of that city were forced to live; the area was called “the ghetto” because there was a foundry nearby. The term eventually came to refer to any part of a city in which a minority group is forced to live as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure. Because of the restrictions placed upon them, ghetto residents are often impoverished.

"You’re five nine, I am do-uble two"


A reference to the year 1959 and the year 2020.

"The Currency"


Meaning US dollars - this is drawing attention to the fact that Cuba is effectively dollarized.

"Sixty years with the dom-ino stuck"


This sentence is a reference to the Cold War notion that countries would turn Communist one after the other - like dominos. Cuba was the first domino, but it got stuck - no one else followed through into communism.

رحلنا


رحلنا, or "rahalna," means "we have left."

Habibi


Habibi means "my love."

Ra7eel


Ra7eel, or "raheel," means "departure."

3awda


3awda, or "awda," means "returning."

أهلاً


أهلاً, or "ahalan," means "welcome."

a5 ya baba


a5 ya baba, pronounced "akh ya baba," means "Oh my father."