Teaching award makes way for Hindi drama

The Teaching Excellence Awards scheme – run by the Teaching Audit Committee of the Social Sciences Divisional Board – has granted a project-funding award to Dr Kate Sullivan of the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme. Below, she talks about what the award means for her course, Hindi ‘in situ’ – An introduction to Hindi for fieldworkers and researchers and its students.

What does this award mean for your course?

We’re thrilled to receive this award because it now allows us to transform our beginner’s Hindi course into something much more exciting and dynamic. We’ll now be recruiting native speaker ‘actors’ to engage our students in a series of role-play situations. Through these drama sessions, students will be immersed in simulated “in-country” experiences, such as browsing and bargaining in an Indian clothes shop, hailing a rickshaw, or participating in a village council meeting.

How do you think drama will factor into the learning process?

I think that many people who have tried to learn a language – myself included – tend to find it hard to transfer what they learn in the classroom to an actual ‘live’ language setting. The alternation between normal classroom activity and drama sessions in our course is intended to simulate that transition. This will hopefully encourage students to think constantly about how they are going to apply what they learn and should keep their language-learning goals clear and tangible. And since the drama sessions will allow students to test their ability to communicate within defined situations, it will hopefully keep their motivation levels high, too.

Is this the first time you will be using drama to teach language skills?

I actually had enormous fun teaching an intermediate Hindi language course at the Australian National University in 2009. This was a multimedia course entitled Filmi Hindi, which required students to watch Bollywood films and analyse language use within them. Their final assessment involved writing and performing their own (abbreviated) Bollywood script, which was just fantastic. It was certainly the success of this experience that made me consider using drama as a teaching method in Hindi ‘in situ’.

What kind of student is participating in the course and why do they want to learn Hindi?

The course meets the needs of graduate students, both at the doctoral and the masters level, who are planning fieldwork or any other kind of visit to Hindi-speaking regions and wish to develop basic Hindi literacy and conversation skills. Many of the students on the course are also studying for our MSc in Contemporary India. What an understanding of Hindi can offer them—apart from help with the practical considerations of travel—is a new appreciation of everyday life, thought and meaning in some important parts of India. This kind of thinking is in keeping with what we do here in Area Studies – that is, we generally try to understand the world from various vantage points, rather than simply gaze from afar.