By Rishabh Jain, The Daily Iowan
While the number of students studying abroad in India is booming, the number of University of Iowa students learning the subcontinent’s major language is stagnant.
Philip Lutgendorf, a UI professor of Hindi, said the traveling trend hasn’t “translated into more students enrolling in Hindi courses.”
Twenty-five UI students studied abroad in India in the 2006-07 school year. This number more than quadrupled to 115 students last school year.
R. Rajagopal, the program coordinator for the UI India Winterim program, said “the purpose of the study-abroad program is not just language and culture of India, but there are a lot of other aspects of modern India that the students experience.”
Rajagopal also said the program has actually inspired a few students to study the Hindi language in India.
However, Lutgendorf said, the enrollment in the three main Hindi language classes offered at the UI have been “steady but low.”
This fall, only about a dozen students enrolled in first-year Hindi, and only six enrolled in second-year Hindi.
Some of the UI’s peers around the Big Ten have higher numbers of students studying Hindi.
At Northwestern University — which has fewer undergraduates than the UI —there are 26 students enrolled in the basic Hindi class, and 16 enrolled in the second-level course. At the University of Michigan, more than 50 students are taking first-year Hindi and almost as many are enrolled in the second-year class.
Lutgendorf — who initiated the Hindi language program at UI in 1985 and is the only UI faculty member teaching Hindi — says this low enrollment could be due to lack of information and interest on the students’ part.
“Students hear much more in the news about China. And even though India is considered a booming economy and a huge number of U.S. firms, including Iowa firms, do business with India, the perception hasn’t quite caught on,” he said. “There is also the fact that there is so much use of English as a second language in India, and people have the impression that they don’t need to know an Indian language.”
Lutgendorf said if students want to do anything outside the metros of India or interact with people outside the top 3 percent of Indian society, they need to know an Indian language.
Chinese, a language from the same part of the world as India, has a greater popularity than Hindi at UI. There are 60 students enrolled in first-year Chinese, and 31 enrolled in second-year Chinese.
Rajiv Ranjan, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in second-language acquisition at the UI and is also a teaching assistant for Hindi classes, said he thinks there is more interest in Chinese at universities across the nation.
“The number of students interested in learning Chinese are more than the numbers for Hindi,” he said. “One of the most important reasons for this is Chinese involvement in the U.S. economy. Many American students believe learning Chinese is one of their career requirements.”
He also noted the increasing influx of Chinese students at the UI as a factor for increasing the interest in students to study Chinese as a foreign language.
Ranjan hopes to stimulate student interest in Hindi by informally introducing them to the Indian culture and other interesting visual aspects of India.
This year, Ranjan started Chai Time on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., in which a group of interested students meet and learn more about India and some conversational Hindi.
“Interest in a language comes from interest in that culture, availability of teachers, and how visual the language program is,” he said.