An increasing number of Indian-origin students in Australia are choosing Hindi as a subject for the High School Certificate (HSC) or Class 12 exam to improve their overall percentage and seize the opportunities offered by India's economic growth.
Jasmine Sodhi, who migrated here at the age of eight, has just done the voiceover in Hindi for one of Australia's most successful children's entertainment programmes, 'The Wiggles', for the Indian market.
She said, "Learning Hindi has opened up many opportunities. It will be of great help if I choose to work in India as I can now interact with different people with ease."
Fluent in French and English, Jasmine has been attending the Sunday Hindi classes for the past six years. She said, "I have chosen Hindi for HSC to scale my UAI."
UAI or University Admission Index is a numerical measure of a student's overall academic achievement in the HSC exam. It is used to determine a student's eligibility for admission to undergraduate courses.
A spokesperson for the Board of Studies of New South Wales said, "In 2007, 40 students enrolled in the HSC Hindi Continuers course in the state. In 2002, there were only eight students enrolled in the course. The biggest jump occurred in the past year with the number of candidates nearly doubling from 22 in 2006 to 40 in 2007."
Cheshta Hooda, who topped the state in Hindi in 2006, came to Australia at the age of 13 and had not studied Hindi after Class 5.
"I joined Hindi in Class 11 to score a higher UAI. It took a couple of months to get back into the groove of reading and writing the language, but now I can talk to naniji without needing mummy to translate the bits I didn't understand earlier."
"I can also better follow the epics, Mahabharat and Ramayan, and enjoy Bollywood films without having to concentrate on subtitles," she said.
"The way Hindi is taught here is very different to the 'learn by heart' concept followed in India. Here, we do a lot of listening tasks and translation, which is difficult, but it tests one's command over Hindi and English," added Cheshta, whose mother used to be a Hindi teacher in Mussoorie.
Abhishek Sood, who migrated at the age of 12, said, "The prospect of high UAI lured me to do HSC Hindi, and then my mother, who had been a Hindi teacher in India for 16 years, was also there to help. Here, the essence is to make you conversant in Hindi and the focus is largely on speaking skills. You can respond to a lot of exam questions in English."
However, the HSC Hindi course has helped him retain the writing skills and he enjoys writing letters in Hindi to his grandparents back home in India.
Most migrant children attend the Sunday Hindi classes at the Indo-Australian Bal Bharati Vidyalaya in suburban Sydney. The Vidyalaya has come a long way since its inception in 1987 when a group of mothers, some with teaching backgrounds, started the Hindi classes.
Mala Mehta, the honorary founder, coordinator and teacher at the Vidyalaya, said, "I used to teach Hindi to my daughter at home but she kept winging and found learning by herself a chore. So a group of mothers got together to set up the school and make learning Hindi fun. We started with 35 students and now have about 150 students and 11 trained teachers."
Most students who take HSC Hindi secure 80 percent or more marks. The students are tested for speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. The text is interactive and contemporary, based on current affairs and topical events.The Vidyalaya also has classes for adults. For example, some medical students are learning Hindi to gain clinical experience in India and a few Australians are learning the language to live up a dream in Bollywood.