Language sans barriers

How countries embrace other languages, including them in academic curricula as well.

Over 19,500 languages or dialects are reportedly spoken as mother tongues in India.
Over 19,500 languages or dialects are reportedly spoken as mother tongues in India.

India is a land of great linguistic diversity. While 22 languages are recognised by the Constitution, more than 19,500 languages or dialects are reportedly spoken as mother tongues. And it appears Indians are keen on foreign languages as well. Among these, French, Korean, and Spanish are high on the agenda, as the 2022 India report by language-learning platform Duolingo revealed, that these three are among the top five languages that Indians are learning.

Sensing the interest and catering to it, the Embassy of Spain recently tied up with Penguin Random House to publish Spanish classics in India. “We wanted these books in the Spanish language in India,” José María Ridao, ambassador of Spain in India, told FE. Currently, the books are imported from Spain and Latin American countries, which drives up the cost. “We shared this issue with Penguin Random House and looked into the possibility of publishing the books in the Spanish language, offering the Indian readers the possibility of having access to these important texts,” he said.

The initiative does not stop here. The biggest Instituto Cervantes, which promotes Spanish language teaching, is in New Delhi. “It is the biggest we have globally in terms of the number of students. The one in the Philippines comes second, but it does not come close,” the ambassador said, adding that they are looking at the possibility of opening another one in Mumbai.

Not just that, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which is among the premier literary events in the country, is set to happen in Spain from June 1 to 4. “We are very happy and honoured by this,” the ambassador said. Also, India is set to be the theme country at the 2025 Madrid International Book Fair. Highlighting the ‘importance’ of these collaborations, the ambassador said, “Our idea is to have more Indian voices in Spain and more Spanish voices in India.”

Notably, several educational institutes in the country also offer Spanish language courses. On academic-level tie-ups, ambassador Ridao spoke of two programmes. “The first one is concerning the visiting professors to universities — to bring Spanish professors to India. There is another one for which we are trying to collaborate with the state governments in India to get Spanish as a language in the public education system here.

Once we sign the agreement, we would take some professors to Spain to train them.” Pop culture in general, such as films, music and arts, plays a prominent role in deciding what people are willing to learn. A growing interest in the Korean language has been seen ever since Korean dramas and music blew up in the country. “We, too, are very interested in these,” the Spanish ambassador said. “In fact, we participate in several film festivals here and also collaborate in music,” he said.

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All this shows a consistent effort for the popularisation of Spanish in the country. However, the ambassador highlighted that “We do not have a nationalistic approach towards languages. We use the Spanish language, just like our Latin American colleagues, and it is important for us. We are not owners of the language. It is a tool to understand each other better. That is why we think that if more Indians speak Spanish, it would be better for the common understanding.”

“However, I must confess one thing. I would like to see the same level of interest in Indian languages in Spain, and that is also what we are trying to convey. It is only fair, and we would like to know more about this part of the world, with which we have so many things in common,” he added.

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First published on: 21-05-2023 at 10:00 IST