Key Phrases for India
India has 22 official languages; a good rule of thumb is that each Indian state equals a different Indian language. This may sound a lot to take in however Hindi is recognised as the main Official Language of the Union, with English acting as a subsidiary official language.
Hindis the native tongue of the people from the ‘Hindi Belt’ in Northern India, spoke natively by 40% of the population. Many more speak it as a second language.
Hindi is used in media and education. You will notice that code-switching between English and the native language (often in the same sentence) is very common among youngsters and is widely used in daily conversation, SMS, TV advertising, FM radio and Bollywood. So if you can only afford one phrasebook, pick up the Hindi one as it will allow you to get by in most of India.
Avoid speaking Hindi in places such as Tamil Nadu and the Northeast, as Hindi is met with hostility from most of the locals there.
While fluency in English varies vastly depending on education levels, occupation, age and region; it is generally not a problem getting by with English in urban areas. English is compulsory in all schools, and is widely spoken in major cities and most tourist places, as well as in most police stations and government offices. However, if possible, you are better off picking up as many words of the local language of the place you are going to – people are proud of their state’s culture and language and will appreciate it if an outsider makes an attempt to communicate in it.
Generally speaking, most official signs are bilingual in the state language and English. Signs at railway stations are generally trilingual outside the Hindi-speaking belt.
Most Indian languages have no word for please, instead verbs have many forms denoting levels of politeness and formality, you may hear phrases like “come here” which may sound commanding but remember in their culture this is not rude.
Useful Indian phrases
My name is… Meraa naam hai
How much? Yeh Kaisey diyaa?
What is this? Yeh kyaa hai?
Thank you Shukriyaa
1-10 Ek, dow, teen, chaar, paanch, chhey, saat, aath, nao, dus
Non-verbal communication is used widely across India. Many jokes have been made about the Indian head nod but the important thing to understand is that Indians have different nods for yes, ok and no.
Shaking head up and down = Yes
Shaking head in a tilting motion, like a figure of eight = I understand or I get what you said.
Shaking head sideways = No
However in southern states like Tamilnadu an up and down nod could mean no. Look for verbal cues that accompany these sounds (like ‘aaan’ for yes ) in southern India to get the correct meaning.
Hands together = Namaste (Hello)