Learning Alien Lingos

Updated: Jan 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
They learnt Chinese when the Chinese army crossed over to the Indian boundary, so goes an old anecdote. But that was 1962 when India was seen as a land of snake charmers and nude sadhus, not to mention millions living in squalor.

Forty two years later history is repeating itself, but with a big difference. This time, Indians are going to non-English language classes in droves to take a crash course in Japanese, Korean, French, German and even Chinese! The reason: Not to aid any marauding conquerers, but to be guides for Indian corporates shopping for business abroad.

Riding the crest of India Incs overseas day out are scores of institutes providing crash courses in non-English, foreign languages. Corporates are sponsoring employees to learn languages to aid their business.

Consider this for starters. Indo-Japan Centre in Chennai had 10 students in 1990. But now it has close to 400 students. Started in 1989, the centre has witnessed a spurt in the number of people enrolling for its courses, most of this coming from the corporate segment. In fact, the institute conducts a special need-based Japanese language teaching programme for several corporate houses.

Says Mr Padmanabhan, Japanese language instructor at the centre: The boom in the IT and ITES (information technology enabled services) has trigerred the demand for Japanese language courses.

In fact, the centre offers a corporate membership programme wherein companies can become members by paying an annual fees of Rs 5,000. The list includes big names such as Ashok Leyland Ltd, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Covansys (India) Pvt Ltd, Mitsubishi Corporation, Sundaram Brake Linings and so on.

Says Mr S Sundar Ram, president, Rane Brake Linings: We recently sponsored three engineers for learning Japanese from the Indo-Japan centre since we have a business interest in Japan. Rane Brake Linings has a technical partnership with the Japanese giant Nishhinbho. Communicating with the help of translators results in loss of information especially because translators are not familiar with technical jargon. Which is why we felt that it is better to have our engineers trained in the local language, he added.

Mr Ramkumar, chief knowledge officer, Cognizant, believes that the increase in the demand for non-English language courses has a lot to do with the trend of Indian companies going global. Cognizant has trained its employees in Japanese, Italian and French language courses. The need for learning foreign languages arises as many of our MNC customers are expanding into Europe and the Asia Pacific region especially Japan. Cognizant itself has been acquiring companies in Europe which has sort of trigerred the need to learn the local languages. More importantly, to serve customers with a global footprint it is imperative to have the local language capability not just for business communication but also for regular day-to-day exchanges, he says.

Max Mueller Bhavan, which offers German language course, narrates a similar tale. In the past two years, we have seen an interest in the German language. It is probably because of the September 11 incident which has made the US an unfavourable destination for students. In fact, quite a number of our students learn German for the purpose of securing a seat in a German university. Apart from this, we have witnessed an increase in our corporate clients which include Larsen and Toubro, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro ABN Amro etc, a spokeperson of the organisation says.

Alliance Francais, which offers French language courses, has seen an increase from 1,987 students in 1999, to 2,888 students in 2002. Says Ms Hema Parthasarthy, student counsellor, Alliance Francais: The demand for French has come mostly from the corporate sector. We are in fact trying to come out with a special package for corporates. Alliance has an impressive list of clients which includes e-serve, IDP, Saint Gobain, ABN Amro and Naturesoft.

On the flip side, languages such as Russian and Italian have actually seen a decline in student enrolment rate. Mr Vladimir Potapov, deputy director, Russian Cultural Centre says: Few years back we had close to 150 students. Now we have hardly 25 students and with respect to companies we have probably one or two clients.

The Italian language course offered by the Madras University again is not doing too well. We have 45 students enrolled for the Italian course. However, a majority of them are students who take the language as an elective with the sole purpose of scoring high marks. Otherwise, not much interest has been shown in the language by outsiders, says Mr Vajra Pier Luigi, faculty member at the university.