spoken Sanskrit class this summer

Adheesh Sathaye adheesh1 at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 15 00:43:56 UTC 2011

Dear Al and others,

The courses that Sadananda Das has been teaching at Heidelberg for the better part of the decade are quite different than Samskrita Bharati, though he does incorporate a number of familiar ideas of spoken Sanskrit that Jacob mentions--grammatical simplicity, focus on everyday vocabulary, building of confidence. Not to worry, there is no severe discipline involved, and really the student can get out of it whatever she/he wants to get. 

Having participated in it myself (during its Florence incarnation in 2003), here are a few thoughts about it:

The emphasis is on active pattern recognition and building--this is a key element of developing linguistic confidence, of not feeling afraid to make mistakes when using a language, because certain forms just start instinctively to "sound right." And even if they are wrong, you find out that they can still "work" to get the point across. This is something that happens in the classroom when learning just about any modern language, but too often Sanskrit students are left to their own devices (or to somehow "tough it out") in developing this confidence. This, in my opinion has been the most serious downside to what is otherwise an admirable maintenance of rigor in Sanskrit classrooms around the world, often resulting in the enrollment problems we experience today.

Also, the courses at Heidelberg are designed with international students in mind. There is an effort made to help serious students of Sanskrit get better at the language so that they may succeed in their ultimate scholarly endeavors (history, religious studies, philology, what have you)--and not simply to surprise them with how much Sanskrit they can learn in 3 weeks, 3 days, or 3 hours. Also I have found little by way of nationalistic zeal or religious chauvinism--mainly I imagine due to the non-aggressive, thoughtful, and kind personality of Sadananda himself. He is really a dedicated and sincere teacher, and I don't think I'm alone in finding him to be inspirational. Most of all, I found it to be a really fun and exciting time (especially the incorporation of theater, songs, and verses), and a great way to enjoy Sanskrit without the stress and pressures ordinarily associated with studying it in the classroom. Being able to actively and socially have fun with the language changes the whole learning experience. I still have fond memories and great friends from those 3 weeks in Florence.  

hope this helps,


Adheesh Sathaye
Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia

On May 14, 2011, at 5:08 PM, Jaob Schmidt-Madsen wrote:

> Dear Al,
> A couple of years ago I took spoken Sanskrit classes with the Samskrita
> Bharati organization in Delhi and Varanasi. They also teach in the medium
> of the language being taught, and discourage students from speaking in any
> other language in class. In the boarding-school-like Samvadashala in Delhi
> where students stay for anything from two weeks to several months, even
> speaking in any other language outside class is strictly prohibited (and
> enforced as such).
> Apart from the rather severe discipline upheld by Samskrita Bharati, I was
> quite taken by their method of instruction which enabled students with
> little or no prior experience with Sanskrit to quickly get a basic grasp
> of the language. The grammar, of course, was watered down with
> periphrastic forms and a predilection for a-stem nouns and thematic verbs,
> but still students were able to make simple conversation in Sanskrit after
> just a few classes. Myself included, rather to my surprise.
> So by all means, tell your son to go ahead and join the course (which, I
> am sure, will be less rigid in its discipline than Samskrita Bharati's).
> It is quite an eye-opener learning Sanskrit through conversation alone.
> You quickly learn to set up a grammatical "no nonsense" filter in the
> Paninian center of your brain :)
> Best wishes,
> Jacob
> Jacob Schmidt-Madsen
> Department of Indology
> University of Copenhagen
>> My son is contemplating this class in Heidelberg. He has the Sanskrit
>> background for it but is hesitant because it is conducted (like all
>> language
>> immersion programs) in the language being taught. I would be interested to
>> hear from anyone who has taken this course in the past, hopefully telling
>> Nick that it is not too threatening.
>> Al Collins, Ph.D.

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