We could be heroes! Me and you!

That song is pretty good in another context, and in my opinion also fitting to language learners and teachers. To be sure, I am using the word hero to mean a person who is admired, especially for having done something difficult or good. 

Here is how I see it: Whether you are learning a language, or teaching it, you are a hero in someone’s life. If you speak a second language, I’m sure you’ve had many people admire you for speaking and understanding a language that is not your native tongue. This is because the student is admired for putting in the time, energy, and resources to learn the language of a different community for the purposes of wanting to connect with people they may not otherwise connect with. And if you teach language, you are not just admired for it, you are also respected. That’s because, as a teacher, you have learned how the language works, and you can explain it in a way that makes sense to someone who has not necessarily thought about language rules. Moreover, you have committed yourself to teach that language to people over the long-term. 

Love and a little light

During college, when I was learning Hindi as a second language, we were assigned several good books to learn from. Those books became my close friends. I used to sit with them and study them in my college library and language lab for hours a day. After college, the number of books about Hindi that I carefully read and studied gradually increased. I continued to seek and thus discover more grammar books and dictionaries for the language, because I was on a quest to find the right combination of books for the diverse group of students I would work with as a private Hindi tutor. I was fortunate to have found those books, because otherwise, it would have been nearly impossible to learn and teach Hindi in the manner I became able to—meeting students at cafés, their offices and homes, and working on Hindi, step by step. I appreciate all those authors of Hindi and Urdu grammar books, and most of all, my teachers and students along the way.

Got a secret side in plain sight

Over the years, I have continued to study many of these grammar books and dictionaries. I realize now that I did it because I wanted to be the best Hindi teacher there is for my students. This strong compulsion to be the best was not because I was on some ego-trip, but rather, because I was doing two things at the same time: I was keen to learn Hindi for myself in its entirety and, at the same time, I was living through all the reasons why my students wanted to learn Hindi too. This provided me with the inspiration to expand my knowledge so that I could, in turn, impart it to them. But the main reason I tried so hard was because I admired my students to the core. They were committing to learning a language and doing all the work to achieve it right before my eyes—and I was walking the journey with them from the point of knowing nothing of the language, to being able to to speak it. Fascinating! 

Their desire and need to learn Hindi translated into a big responsibility for me because I knew that if they did not learn from me, then the chances of them not learning at all would be higher since there was a shortage of experienced language teachers outside of colleges and universities. In my case, I know that if I had not had the chance to learn Hindi in university first, I probably would not have learned it at all, nor would I have become a teacher who has now taught over 1,500 students in turn. Now my students and I fuel each other’s ability to learn and teach. 

That’s where we run

Over the early years, before moving to India to start the Zabaan Language Institute in 2009, I had thought of opening a private language institute. Where that would be, how it would look, how it would be set up, I did not know. I just knew that I had to keep teaching and do whatever it would take to start that language school, so that language students would have a place to learn Hindi, and good-willed aspiring teachers would have a place to teach.

That language institute Zabaan has turned out to be in New Delhi, India. Zabaan has been providing university-quality language instruction to the public for nearly 10 years now, here in New Delhi—and it’s growing, all thanks to the hard work of like-minded people—teachers and students—all of whom, over the years, committed themselves to teaching and learning languages. This institute is in South Delhi, two doors down from the Kailash Colony Metro Station on the first floor of a commercial building. In a floor area of 5,000 sq. ft., it has 12 classrooms, some big and some small, 8 full-time teachers, 3 part-time teachers, and 4 support staff. 

The institute is a fun place to teach and learn because the teachers and the students are doing great things. Unlike when I was learning Hindi in the United States, Zabaan students can leave the institute and start to communicate with anyone living in the city. 

We are a different kind

The relationship between a student of language and the teacher is a special one. It takes around 200 hours (B2 i.e., intermediate level) to learn a language. These 200 hours of classroom time can take place over three months or up to two years. Imagine teaching 20 students at different levels over the course of a full-time work week, with some students achieving their goal and new ones starting their journey. Now imagine doing that over years. It is an unparalleled experience. Now imagine working with that language teacher who has so much experience teaching, imagine how well you will learn simply because you decided to learn (in-person, or online) at the right institute with a teacher who has this unique perspective of the language in terms of how it works, the reasons for it, and the best way of explaining it. 

Really, when we teach languages to people, we give them the ability to connect with people in a real way. And when students learn a language, they enrich their teachers with stories about their lives, and the teachers learn from them.

Spin around and round for hours

There’s a joy in working with students and there is the joy the student gets from working with a good teacher—and that is where Zabaan fits in. It is a place where languages are taught and learned.  It is a space to make what seems impossible seem possible. But, it is only becomes possible because two individuals set off on a seemingly endless journey, in order to prove that difficult goals can be achieved. And through this process comes a deep sense of admiration for the student, and a deep sense of admiration for the teacher. 

Then there are all those who interact with the student in Hindi who admire them for doing what it takes to learn their language. And native Hindi speakers do show their appreciation to those who are learning. Students are heroes in their eyes, because it took a lot for the student to learn what they learned. When the student feels admiration, they cannot help but feel gratitude and appreciation for the teacher who taught them. When the teacher feels this gratitude, it makes them into a better teacher, thus making every subsequent student’s learning experience even better, and this keeps going round and round.

This is what Zabaan’s teachers have been experiencing, and it is amazing. 

You and me we got the world in our hands

After Christoph Dusenbery moved on from Zabaan in 2016, Neha Tiwari and I continued to run Zabaan. We very recently finalized an investment by a current student of Urdu, Mr. Rakesh Saraf. He and his daughter Mira Saraf and many more members of his HR, Marketing, and Finance team have joined Zabaan to run the Kailash Colony centre with Neha and I. We are also going to open a total of 3 more centres in India within the next 2 years. The first new centre to open will be in Gurugram and that will be on March 1, 2019. The second new centre will be in Juhu, Mumbai and that will open on April 1, 2019. The location of the third new centre is yet to be decided, and will be announced in an upcoming Zabaan Newsletter. A big warm welcome to Mr. Saraf, Mira, and their team—it’s already been great to work with you, and Neha and I are looking forward to opening many more Zabaan centres with you! 

We can do anything

We are excited to announce that Zabaan is hiring a total of 14 teachers over the course of the next four months for all three centres: Kailash Colony, Gurugram, and Mumbai. Carefully selected applicants will be hired after completion of a month-long paid training program. Getting into and staying in the training program will be competitive, but worth the effort. Do apply by sending an email to careers@zabaan.com if you would like to become a Hindi, Urdu, and/or English teacher at Zabaan.

If you are a person who has always wanted to learn Hindi, or any other language we teach, and could not find the right place to learn, do try our lessons. You can visit our website zabaan.com for more information and conveniently pay and schedule your classes there. 

It’s clear that the world is getting smaller day by day, year by year, generation by generation. The onus is us to learn and teach another’s language to bridge language gaps. If you share this opinion, and want to be hero too, do get in touch with us—we’re here to build the bridge teachers, and guide students over it too.

Ali Taqi

The subheadings above are lyrics from the song Heroes (We Could Be).

Brian Eno, P. (2014). Heroes (We Could Be) [Alessandro Lindblad]. Sweden: Def Jam.