Vidhi and Prashant are looking at the notice board outside the Department of Germanic and Romance Studies at Delhi University. There's a play in Italian and they are scribbling down the details while the admission queue by their side spills into the lawns. They both are relieved their MA admission forms are now with the officials behind the windows. 'There will be an entrance, and then an interview,'Vidhi says wiping the sweat off her forehead with a handkerchief buried in her hand. When Vidhi enrolled for BA in Programming suddenly she was attracted to the idea of learning a foreign language. For her friend, Prashant, learning French first started out as a hobby and then later became a career option. While Prashant enrolled in Alliance Française, Vidhi did an advanced diploma in German language from St Stephen's, and both incidentally want to be teachers. Deciding on a language Neha Gupta, a travel consultant with Enchanting India, an online travel agency, wondered about her future after studying Environmental Sciences at Delhi University. She could have gone ahead to do an MSc, but she found herself thinking about learning a foreign language. 'It was the idea of travelling, meeting people,'she says. Like Neha, choosing a language can be purely out of sheer curiosity or just out of a plain need to learn something. Assistant Professor, Vinay Kumar Gupta, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad (EFLU) (earlier called Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages), enrolled in BA French at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as France was famous for its artistic life. But while listening to your heart, it isn't a bad idea to gauge career prospects of the language, too says Neha. 'Popularity or better career prospects in a foreign language are linked with the international and economic ties with a particular country,'says Professor Sankar Basu, Dean, School of Language, Literature and Culture studies, JNU. Professor Priyadarsi Mukherji, chairman, Centre for Chinese & South-East Asian Studies, JNU talks of his late grandfather who was a Chinese Scholar but couldn't go to China as back then relations with China were strained. Instead, his grandfather went to Russia. 'At the time relations with USSR were good and that explained the popularity of the Russian language.' But after China and India's economic relationship improved, so did the language's worth. 'Look East is a recent phenomenon suddenly Chinese, Korean and Japanese are the most sought after languages,'says Professor Mukherji. Though many teachers discourage choosing a language based on its worth, B Mathews, administrative manager, Instituto Hispania says it is a practical approach. 'One should keep in mind the viability of a language as one invests time and effort.' Which is why when Neha had to choose between French and German, she opted for German as it offered better careers prospects. Aptitude for a language is important while deciding on a language. Universities such as Delhi University and JNU conduct entrance exams at the BA level to gauge the aptitude of potential students. And in Master's level there's a great emphasis on oral communication. Twenty-four-year-old Madhuvan Sharma, Press Attaché, Embassy of Colombia, says that as long as you have an urge to study a language you can also develop an aptitude for it, as well.
Opportunities galore Opportunities only revealed themselves to Deepika and Mukesh, successful tourist guides from Rajasthan, as their engagement with the language deepened. 'When students think of doing a language course it's with the view to either study or work abroad,'points out Professor Kusum Aggarwal, Department of Germanic and Romance Studies. But when these students learn more about the language they realise options are incredibility vast. Almost all of Professor Gupta's classmates went into well-paying jobs in the private sector, 'except for me,'he says. Academia was his first choice. One of his classmates got absorbed in an Indian company based in West Africa. 'And he is drawing in lakhs per month.' Max Mueller Bhavan (Goethe-Institut), for example, has designed its curriculum to cater to the private sector. Business German is an important component of its syllabus. 'While our primary focus is on imparting communication skills, learning Business German only improves careers prospects even more,'says Dr Stefan Dreyer, regional director, South Asia, Goethe-Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan. Companies and BPOs such as eServe, Xchanging, Enchanting India, Fidelity come to Max Mueller Bhavan for campus interviews and 'they recruit in bulk,'he says. In fact, Alliance Française and Instituto Hispania also offer Business French and Spanish, besides courses on tourism and hotel industries and catering business, translation and conversation skills. Organisations such as the World Bank and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) have recruited people from Instituto Hispania. 'Recently, five students got placed in HCL, Madrid office,'says Mathews. Now doctors, engineers and MBAs are upgrading their language skills, says Mathews. Neha's husband, a BTech has started learning German now. 'I got a call from Adobe because of my German language skills I wasn't keen but my husband wondered why he doesn't get calls from Adobe.'Now Neha is teaching her husband German so that his career prospects improve. Alliance Française, too, has been attracting large companies such as Orange and Thales to its campus says Jacques Cretin, academic director, Alliance Française, Delhi. Universities such as JNU and DU also attract many companies. 'There's close to 100 per cent employment of JNU alumni through campus selection or through direct contact with companies in the open market,'says Professor Ashish Agnihotri. He teaches French at JNU and is also the co-ordinator of the Placement Cell. 'Salaries could range from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 1 lakh a month,'says Neha who got her first job offer as early as third semester. 'Just sitting at home one can earn Rs. 1,500-2,000 a day in translation work,'says Mathews. Two of Professor Agnihotri's students are in well-placed government jobs. One has just got through the Indian Revenue Service and the other works in the Prime Minister's office. 'A foreign language is like any other subject, besides joining the private sector, one can serve the government!'he says. The interesting part, Dr Dreyer says, is that the demand for foreign language skills is being driven by the domestic market and not the foreign market as it used to be earlier. 'There's been a 50 per cent increase in the intake at our centres in the last three years.'Small language centres in mini metros, too, are doing well, mentions Dr Dreyer. 'We are living in a global world and that exp- lains why foreign languages are becoming more popular,'says Professor Aggarwal of DU. The service and knowledge sectors are the backbones of the Indian economy and they need people with good foreign language skills, observes Dr Dreyer. In the Max Mueller Bangalore centre 50 per cent of the teaching happens outside the class in IT-based companies who wish their employees to pick up language skills.
Foreign language teachers in great demand 'But now there are more students than there are teachers,'says Cretin of Alliance Française. Education is a sector opening up fast. 'We have class V students coming to us to learn Spanish. There's far more awareness of foreign languages than there used to be,'says Mathews. Many students from Instituto Hispania have found teaching jobs in schools such as GD Goenka and Delhi Public School (DPS). 'Last year we taught final year MBA students at IMT Ghaziabad,'says Pushpa Sharma, director, public relations, Instituto Hispania. Max Mueller Bhavan has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with schools such as DPS, Vasant Kunj and Kendriya Vidyalaya to provide school teachers and course material for the language. 'There are 981 KVs in India, and you can thus imagine the popularity of foreign languages in the years to come and the sudden need for teachers,'says Dr Dreyer. In fact, Max Mueller has tied up with IGNOU to provide the same support. Professor Gupta of EFLU says that there are going to be 16 more central universities in years to come and all of them will have a foreign language department, and naturally there will be a great demand for teachers. 'It's a trickle-down effect of demand driven by the corporate world,'says Dr Dreyer. Understanding this need, Delhi University has introduced a diploma in foreign language teaching for five languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. There's an entrance exam for it followed by an interview, and there are five seats in each language. After this diploma, one can teach in schools. Even Max Mueller provides teacher's training. Every year the Max Mueller Bhavan offers 150 grants for teacher's training in Germany. Alliance Française and Instituto Hispania, too, have teachers' training programme. Private versus university education But students do wonder which route to take to acquire foreign language skills: university education or private institutes. Opinions are sharply divided on this. While private institutes such as Max Mueller Bhavan, Alliance Française and Instituto Hispania focus on the spoken and written part of the language, DU and JNU and EFLU focus on literature, linguistics and translations, as well. 'You cannot study a language in isolation understanding of the culture and history of a country is important,'says Professor Sankar Basu of JNU. 'It gives a broader perspective of the language.'Besides, to become a college teacher, you need an MPhil and a PhD says Professor Aggarwal. Dr Dreyer openly says while the centre doesn't focus on literature as much as the universities, his students have good communication skills and are ready for corporate jobs. 'We have had instances of students learning literature at universities and coming to us to improve their conversational skills.'Neha of Enchanting India says that one of her friends enrolled in Max Mueller despite an MPhil from a famous university only to improve her fluency in the language. Though the primary focus of these private institutes is communication, they still do acquaint their students with the culture and literature of the language they teach. They have well-stocked library: books, films, journals. Alliance Française, for example, teaches French through French songs gives lectures on French literature and civilization and helps students understand French aesthetic sensibilities through study of Fine Arts. Besides, these institutes organise cultural events on a regular basis to familiarise their students with the social culture.
Learning a foreign language is not all play Learning a foreign language is not like studying history says professor Gupta of EFLU. 'It is important to be serious from the very first class.'It's a lifetime commitment, and one has to be strong-willed and persevere to learn a language well,'says Natarajan who was once a science student but fell in love with the French language. And attending classes is not enough students have to practise on their own says Mathews. Neha says from her experience that it is important to be in touch with the language on a daily basis and wonders if weekend classes are that helpful. And going to the library should become a habit says Cretin. But carrying big books alone will not help. 'It is important to engage with the language all the time, so discuss politics, the weather in that language and watch films, listen to music, read literature!'says Madhuvan. Another advantage Neha says laughingly is that when she and her husband argue, she switches to chaste German. 'He can't make out a thing of what I am saying'.
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