WMW #28: Reena Bhansali, entrepreneur who teaches kids Hindi, and mum of toddler
Prioritise what you want to achieve, or it will never move forward.
I’m back this week with another great interview with a working mum. This section is my favourite as I get to speak to some incredible women and share their stories with you.
I wonder if I should start a podcast?
Should I start a podcast?
This interview is close to my heart because I found Reena online around 2018, a few months after my first child was born and I was looking for resources to help me teach my daughter Hindi. This was pre this newsletter!
I have been following her since and not only love her material, but also love her persistence in helping parents like me transfer the Hindi language to their children.
English is so widely spoken in cities like Bombay and Pune where we are from and visit, I often feel like Hindi is diminishing in use, especially in younger generations.
Even in my generation, our primary language of communication is English, not Hindi - unlike most other countries like Spain, France, China, Japan or Germany - where the native language is very much the primary one, both in schools and at home.
If you are a parent looking to teach your child Hindi and are in search of resources, I highly recommend her site. She has printables, books and online courses that she teaches. She’s even succeeded in teaching her Greek-American husband Hindi!
Talking to her was therapy of sorts for me. I struggle to speak to my children in Hindi as it just doesn’t come naturally to me. Nor can I imagine having a life conversation with them in Hindi and I feel tremendous shame and guilt for not being better at speaking in Hindi to my children.
I am actively trying to fix this. On a scale of 1-100, if I was 0 a few years ago, perhaps now I am 30 - which is some progress.
In our chat, Reena gave me some great tips and positive reinforcement on getting back into it. Now that I am on my own schedule, I plan to start implementing her course teachings with my kids in a more structured way.
Meet Reena Bhansali, entrepreneur who teaches kids Hindi, and mum of toddler
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born in Chicago, and then I moved to India when I was eight years old. So I had this upbringing where I'm part in the US, and part in India.
I was raised in New Delhi and then after I graduated from high school, I moved back to the US where I did my college, and graduate school in public relations. My first job was in communications for Barbie. And then I was in the public relations team for Disney.
Now I run my own business called Hindi by Reena where I help South Asian parents living abroad teach their kids Hindi/Urdu. Since they speak English so well, it’s a challenge to pass on their mother language to their kids. So I offer resources, books and a detailed syllabus that is effective, fun and easy to implement.
When I moved to LA, I met my now husband who is Greek-American and we had our daughter in 2021, during the pandemic.
Q. What inspired the launch of your business?
My older sister lived in America and eventually settled there. When she had her daughter, she started to look for Hindi materials in the US and couldn't find anything to help her teach simple Hindi to her child. So of course, we looked for resources in India and found there was nothing there either. So that started to get the wheels in my head turning, that this could be a problem I solve for!
I spent a lot of time working in the early childhood space in my time at Disney and Barbie, and would observe how kids are engaging with things. I was learning so much about kids, so I used those learnings and started developing a Hindi syllabus whilst at my corporate job.
And then in 2020 I quit my job and officially launched my board book series, and in 2021 I launched my digital programme, which is an online subscription programme where you can immerse yourself in Hindi with the help of about 85 videos.
Q. Your husband speaks Hindi! How did you end up teaching him Hindi?
Yes! My husband's been there the entire time and he can speak Hindi pretty conversationally and it's really fun to watch!
As a side effect of this business where my focus was on children, I started getting adults reach out to me saying, I'm not a kid, but please let me join your Hindi learning programme. And I was like, this is weird. I’d tell them you're going to be singing rhymes and doing Simon Says in Hindi, and they're like, that's fine we just need some help. So that led me to start teaching adults too as a separate leg of the business.
Q. How do you run a business, teach Hindi, consult parents on Hindi, and be a mum at the same time?
To be honest, it's constant work in progress as I try to be a mom and work at the same time, and I'm sure all working moms feel the same way.
In 2020 when I quit my job and launched my board books, I had also started working on the video content for my digital programme. That’s when I got pregnant and I was like, before I have this baby, I have to do as much work as possible because I know it's going to be hard afterwards.
I also wanted to take three months off after having the baby, so I wanted to make sure as much as possible is done.
As a first time parent, I had no idea what I was in for and I had never worked so hard. I was nine months pregnant when I launched the online programme. I did a partnership with Brown Girl Magazine and did this big launch. It was amazing but it almost killed me. It was just SO much work.
After having a child I realised that it crunches your time in a way that you can have no idea beforehand. Everything feels like it's in blocks, like I have an hour for this or 30 minutes for that.
So my calendar is insane. It’s completely blocked off. And that's something I'm trying to be better at is calendar blocking.
After having kids you realise how much time you actually had before kids! Like SO much! I just didn't appreciate it nearly as much as I should have.
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Q. What are your productivity hacks?
During the pandemic, me and my husband - who is a writer and director, also running his own business - went deep into understanding how we can work best because we knew that the baby was coming.
Doing Deep Work
We used Cal Newport’s book Deep Work as our guide and it's this idea of, we have 15 minutes and we you have X task, so you go deep into that task for that amount of time.
It talks a lot about ideas like ‘attention residue’, where if you're looking at Instagram or when you wake up in the morning and an you go to your inbox, then something from that Instagram or email will be in your brain. It's something you can't address at that moment, but it'll be in your head for the other tasks you're doing and that actually slows you down. The book is full of little tricks like, don't look at your email the moment you wake, so we have been trying to implement that.
And personally, after becoming a mom, I have been doing a lot of optimisation work, including spirituality and productivity practices because I realised it’s so needed because I have such little time and all that time has to be useful! Ekhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth have really helped me.
And then the big thing I have come to terms with is understanding that I can't do everything myself. So when I was nine months pregnant and killing myself working so hard, I was not being smart; there's stuff I could have asked somebody else to do instead. But I was doing everything, ticking everything on my plate. So having my baby really put everything into focus, I have limited time, now I need to know how to delegate.
So then that's when I really started to lean on contractors when I need them and I hired a marketing head which has been really helpful.
Business coaching & support
Also this year, I got a business coach, which has been a huge step for me. The group coaching sessions have been really good for me, because you can bounce off of other people's ideas and learn about how they optimise their days, how they work better and really learn to lean on the community, learn from the community, and also work on myself and understanding my strengths and weaknesses.
I feel like having a child puts a time crunch in the right places, so that you just be smarter with the things you're doing and letting go of the idea that everything needs to be perfect.
I'm constantly trying to analyse my days and see how I can be better. I've noticed that during the day when my daughter is home, I can only get small tasks done. Big tasks are really hard or impossible to do - the ones where you have to wrap your head around this giant task, analyse and get the work done - those I do after she goes to bed.
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Q. Are you passionate about the Hindi language?
I think I am passionate Hindi and also about solving the problem of lack of availability and access to Hindi as a language.
I never was academically super in Hindi. What exists out there is extremely academic and dry. But I think I love the language because of Bollywood and Hindi music. So when I listened to Hindi songs, I listened to the lyrics and would deep diving into them - what do they mean? Why is that there? What is the structure? What is the grammar, so that I already had that interest and love for the language. And it was that love for how the music and the lyrics made me feel that made me want to do this made me feel like it's worth pursuing.
I think the most important thing is to have the doggedness to run your business and know what the thing is that you want to go after.
Q. If you are a bilingual parent, trying to teach your child your native language, what is your advice?
There a few things that might help:
Make it part of a routine: I make speaking in Hindi part of my day, which is what I encourage everyone to do. For example, every time we wash our hands, I say the same hand-washing instructions in Hindi and keep adding to it as they grow up. So the little actions like these will always be in Hindi. So pick one routine that you do every single day, and then speak about it in Hindi and keep adding to it.
Try to do small multiple things, everything counts: Conversation is the most important thing. Try to attack it from multiple angles at once. Do conversation, watch movies, TV songs, get your relatives to speak to your kids in Hindi; use as many resources as possible at once, it all adds up.
Keep your goals small: It’s important to keep your goals small and achievable. People tend to say fluency is my goal and that's it. In my opinion that literally leads to more pain than necessary.
Let go of perfection: It’s not ever going to be perfect. So if you speak broken Hindi, and you want to teach your child Hindi then speak the broken Hindi. You’ve just got to get it done.
Make sure it's fun and no pressure: If it's not fun for you, it's not fun for the kids. And then what ends up happening is when kids are seven or eight years old, they don't like Hindi, and they feel this quiet pressure from their family and parents. Don’t ever put any pressure on your kids.
Never ever, ever, ever make fun of your kids: This is a very, oddly and sadly common thing with South Asian parents. They come from a good place, but a lot of times they're mocking their kids accent, saying that pronunciations are wrong and cracking light hearted jokes. But kids don’t take them in the way that they're intended. This also stymies their growth. They just won't want to learn if their is any shame related to it.
Q. What is your ultimate goal as a working mum
The way that I see it is that I have my career goals and I have my daughter goals and I separate the two quite a bit.
So I don't really consider myself a ‘working mom’. I just think of myself as this is my life right now and that I have a child as well. So this is how much time I have to work. So if I have to stay up late at night to finish my work, then I have to do that. But it just feels like it's just my situation right now I don't really connect the two.
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face?
Oh my gosh, the guilt, I feel so much guilt. Like if my daughter's playing and I have to work, I don't want her to see me on my laptop all the time. I always feel that guilt of like, oh she sees me on my laptop all the time, or that I ignore her if I'm on my laptop, or even on my phone, because I can't have my laptop on all the time, but I'm always responding on the phone.
So I feel this guilt of like she's playing and she sees me as somebody who's always looking at the laptop or looking at the phone and too busy and I don't like that at all.
Q. What is your parenting mantra?
Relax? Just take it easy. Don't make too much of a big deal out of everything. I’m trying!
Q. What do you do in your me time?
I go for walks, and I run. I can do both in nature, so I'm able to just decompress.
Q. What is your advice to mums looking to start their own business?
You have to have lots of grit and commitment.
I talk to people and a lot of times, they talk about their passions and I see that it's not being prioritised. And if it's not being prioritised, no matter what stage you are in life, whether you're a mom or not, it won't go forward, you have to prioritise. It has to be front and centre. It's always going be pushed down the line unless you prioritise it. It literally needs to be what you think about all the time.
Q. Any parenting book’s you recommend?
More than books I'm a big believer in online courses. There is a programme called ‘Taking care of babies’ and that has helped me so much. I've used her for sleep training, which was amazing. They're short courses and they have a lot of materials. I am potty training soon. So I'm going to be using her for potty training as well.
Q. What is your favourite quote?
"Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you." — Eckhart Tolle
Q. Best thing you have read or watched lately
Book (work): The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
Book (for fun): The People You Meet On Vacation - Emily Henry
You can learn more about Reena here. If you want to leave her a message, feel free to reply to this email or comment below and I will make sure she gets yours message.
Attending COP28 in Dubai!
I am attending the UN Climate Summit COP28 this weekend in Dubai, as a journalist.
I’m super excited and also a bit nervous, as I have never attended such a significant event as a journalists. More on that next week.
If any of you are going to be there, do drop me a line maybe I can catch you there!
Have a great rest of the week x