Learning Devanagari

Why learn Devanagari if you’re studying Urdu, not Hindi?

  1. From websites to textbooks to reference works, there are many educational resources available for Hindi … but not Urdu. If you can read Devanagari, you can use those resources.
  2. Conversational Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible. Just like Hindi, Urdu will make it possible to understand and make yourself understood in many parts of India and the South Asian diaspora. Learn Devanagari, and you’ll be literate there too.
  3. A word is written in Hindi is written unambiguously, with all its vowels  something that can’t always be said of words written in Urdu, romanized or otherwise. When you’re a learner with a new word and no immediately handy native audio, this can be a fantastic convenience.
  4. Hindi isn’t the only language written in the Devanagari script. It’s also used for the Marathi, Nepali, Konkani and Bodo languages, not to mention Sanskrit and Prakrit. Other South Asian languages are often written in Devanagari as well, although this practice is not always fully standard or standardized.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

  1. The Hindi Script Tutor, commissioned by SOAS and produced in consultation with the redoubtable Rupert Snell. Here you’ll find stroke order, pronunciation, sample words, and audio quizzes, many of which focus on precisely those sounds native English speakers are most likely to find troublesome. Highly recommended.
  2. The Hindi Writing Guide at hindiurdu.net. In addition to more thorough coverage of stroke order and a set of handwriting practice exercises – which would probably be very nice with a tablet and stylus – this site also offers comments on the conventions of Hindi orthography and some helpful pronunciation advice. Most but not all characters have associated sound files, but there are no audio quizzes here.
  3. The Hindi Alphabet Game at Digital Dialects. While it doesn’t have the same wealth of detail as the Hindi Script Tutor, above, it does have its own set of sample pronunciations, and it will let you quiz yourself on the full alphabet at once. Useful for supplementary review & practice.
  4. Once you’re ready to learn to type, I recommend the InScript keyboard layout, which is built into most major operating systems, though not always as the default Hindi keyboard.
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