The Australian National University’s South Asia Research Centre (ASARC) has recently called for more Australian schools to teach Hindi, a first language for more than 425 million people around the world.

Professor Raghbendra Jha, Head of the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics, of which ASARC is a part, states that now is a great time to start introducing Hindi in more schools, improving Australia’s position as an Asian literate nation.

“Australia’s relations with India have just started picking up… The Australian feel has been that you can get away with just English up until this point.”

While this is true to an extent, Prof. Jha says, if you “want to connect with the people, you have to have a knowledge of Hindi.”

The 2012 Asian Century White Paper, commissioned by Julia Gillard to explore how Australia can become a more Asia-literate and Asia-capable country, identified Hindi as one of the top four priority Asian languages, along with Chinese (Mandarin), Indonesian, and Japanese.

Despite this, take up of the language in school curriculums has been minimal. Prof. Jha expressed that though disadvantages of not recognizing Hindi as an important language to study would not be obvious immediately, to connect and appeal to the wider population outside of government and corporate bodies, it was a must.

“Although much of government and corporate work is done in English, many people outside of those jobs, including NGO’s, have a deeper understanding of Hindi than they do of English.”

“Many traditional businessmen, who represent a huge percentage in India, also conduct their business in Hindi.”

Hindi already has a presence in Australia, with Census data showing that more than 100,000 people speak the language in their homes. Prof. Jha says that now is the perfect time to bring Hindi into the spotlight as a priority Asian language, particularly in younger children, through immersion and language engagement classes.