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Learning Foreign Languages in India

[Admin Note: Bela is a guest blogger on ThinkVidya.com ]

The large number of online queries regarding courses (personalized and online) on foreign languages on the ThinkVidya website prompted me to write this article. The demand is for learning many non-English languages (and/or mainly with the English language). This interest in languages is no longer solely from people going abroad for jobs or studies, hence tied to technical or scientific subjects.

Foreign LanguageThe renewed interest is Humanities-oriented, that is, it geared toward learning about other cultures. This is a very positive development, as the entire field of the Humanities is about relationships: with other people, with other individuals and with oneself. In the world of today, relationships are everything—in business, in politics and in life.

The strong availability of online options for learning languages while sitting in one’s own home is a very important factor in this. People are veering away from the institutional language teaching programs, as these are often too time-consuming, of too long a duration, and also require crossing cities with packed roads. Less costly air travel has also brought the people of the world closer than ever before and people who travel want be able to speak and interact with the people of the country they visit.

This is the complete opposite of a not so distant history when it was considered a blasphemy for Indians to want to cross the oceans and go to other lands. Crossing the ‘kala paani’ (black waters) was tantamount to social excommunication. The result was that while other cultures entered our society, learnt our ways and languages and prospered, we remained isolated from the ways and thoughts of others. We thus became vulnerable to conquest and social disaggregation. In fact, it is my personal view that if the valorous hero, Prithviraj Chauhan, had acquired knowledge on the history of other countries, he would not have been so hidebound by his code of honour but would have faced his enemy with a more realistic approach, and averted a personal and historical disaster.

The Moghul courts flourished and were centres of cultural exchange because the rulers encouraged mastery over languages; Turkish, Arabic and Persian, and perhaps other languages were spoken and encouraged in their courts.

It is well known that language is the first ‘science’ that a child learns in his/her life. Therefore, each time we learn a new language we acquire once again the ‘scientific’ approach to life and the discipline that goes with it. This indirectly helps us in whatever task we are currently handling. Scientific studies have also shown that children born in households where more than one language is spoken are believed to have higher cognitive, managerial and planning abilities. The more languages children are exposed to, the more agile and flexible is their brain to external stimuli.

By learning languages we get access to new thinking on issues that concern us and on institutions that govern us. Indians already learn and employ the English language in their professional lives and the advantages of being literate in English is evident to all. Once we use the tool of language to begin sharing our thinking with others, we realize that our problems are not unique. For example, the emancipation of women, rape and violence on women, unemployment and drug-related crimes among the youth and care for the aged are problems plaguing all societies.

Again, today French, Italian and Spanish are languages spoken in more than one country. These are also languages of international institutions like the UN, or the European Union, so they also provide employment opportunities. Many Indians do not know that from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, Italy was the wealthiest area in Europe and that it was the birthplace of Western culture; many modern institutions forming the backbone of our societies, like capitalism, banking, science, philosophy and world exploration also originated in Italy. The expansion of the concept of democracy, although originating in ancient Rome, has had some singular developments in countries like Russia, China and Poland, while the welfare state has demonstrated quite a novel and highly advanced form in countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

There are those who argue that it is a waste of time to learn a foreign language when so many countries have survived for generations with only one language and are none the worse for it! Why eat other fruit if you can survive by just eating apple? The answer is that just as a comprehensive diet creates better health, so too learning languages creates a more emancipated mind. The humanism of the Renaissance man was due to his ability to be capable in many subjects; today, we are lucky that more and more persons have access to tools to become like the Renaissance man (or woman!).

~Bela Butalia

[ Admin Note: Bela has over 20 years of experience in English language. To learn English from her in Delhi, you can refer to her ThinkVidya profile here.

If you’re not in Delhi and want to learn any foreign language, you can post your foreign language learning requirement here.]

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Adan 19/09/2014

I have fun with, cause I discovered exactly what I was having a
look for. You've ended my 4 day long hunt! Good Bless you man. Have a nice day.

Bela Butalia 17/02/2014

hello, although I am not a linguist, I can assure you that learning Hindi is quite easy. For one, it is a phonetic language, and hence pronunciation is not a hurdle. Each letter is pronounced as it is written and every letter in a word is fully expressed in speech, like the Italian language. The various forms of the pure vowels are expressed via certain...  more » hello, although I am not a linguist, I can assure you that learning Hindi is quite easy. For one, it is a phonetic language, and hence pronunciation is not a hurdle. Each letter is pronounced as it is written and every letter in a word is fully expressed in speech, like the Italian language. The various forms of the pure vowels are expressed via certain fixed symbols and marks; once you learn these you know how to pronounce the full word. Second, the Hindi script is known as the Devanagari script ("deva" = god; "nagari" = city of, hence the script ("lipi") of the city of god. This is the same script used in Sanskrit. Once you learn this script, quite a number of languages in India become easy as about 18 to 19 state-languages have this script. These include Punjabi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Bhojpuri, Konkani (state of Goa), Rajasthani, Bihari, Uttar Pradesh and so on. The Bengali language has some letters from the Devanagari and some from other languages. However, many words of Bengali have their origins in Sanskrit and hence the same meaning as in Hindi.
The problem of Indian languages not being able to challenge other 'power' languages is due to the unproductive approach adopted by the Indian state vis-a-vis Hindi. Although the announced state policy had been that of encouraging children to learn three languages right from the start of their education--the mother language, the English language and one other language of their choice--in reality English gradually became the only language to receive a boost. Hence, gradually, once people found that it was that the passport to success in career and jobs was through the knowledge of English only, they started ignoring their own languages and focusing on English. This has also created a divide between those who know their own languages very well and those who know English better than their own language, with the scale tilting in favour of the latter.
I hope this answer manages to clarify some of your doubts. As for learning Hindi, there are a number of online audi-visual tools as well as the UrbanPro platform where you can slowly begin to learn Hindi. India also has distance learning platforms launched from universities where you can eventually register and get courses and give tests, and so on. «less

mishasibirsk 15/02/2014

A short time ago, I was watching, here in Siberia, the end of the Sth Af v Aust 1st test on an Indian online channel... Star TV, something like that. At the end of the coverage the program switched to a T20 Telugu v Karnataka game. What intrigued me was the commentary, which was in an India language, very likely Hindi, with splotches of English. I don't...  more » A short time ago, I was watching, here in Siberia, the end of the Sth Af v Aust 1st test on an Indian online channel... Star TV, something like that. At the end of the coverage the program switched to a T20 Telugu v Karnataka game. What intrigued me was the commentary, which was in an India language, very likely Hindi, with splotches of English. I don't know a word of any Indian language, other than a few borrowings into English...verandah, teapoy, shampoo. What struck me was that, not knowing any of it, I had the feeling that it wasn't very forbidding. I felt that the intonation wasn't strange, I could quickly get a feel for it, and the phonology didn't seem too challenging.

I like learning languages. I don't have an Indian language on the immediate horizon, but have the objective as an intermediate aim. I don't know where to start. For no particular reason, I have a leaning towards Bengali. I have a question or two for anyone who might have some insight here. Firstly, despite various assertions, I have found that languages are not equally easy/difficult for adult acquisition; also, that, beyond a very close kinship, relatedness of languages is not a good guide to ease. I found Russian (related to English) immensely more difficult than (spoken) Chinese. So, then, the question: Are any of the (Indic) Indian languages relatively easy? 2. A related question: having learnt one IL, are you a fair part of the way to a second and third? Compare, say, the Slavic languages, where leaning one is a fair leg-up to any of the others, with the Germanic, where knowing English doesn't get you very far into, say, German.

So much for the questions. I would just add a comment about my experience journeying from the cricket telecast to this site. I went in search of fora on Indian languages. First, I found one which was very technical, for specialists. I got the feeling that was not the right address. Second stop was a Hindi forum, apparently run by a young lady in a swirling sari - there's another Indian borrowing - in mainly English on its banner page and looking like probably the right place. The registration page was also in English, except for the prove-you're-not-a-machine question, in Hindi. For almost the only time ever, I used Google Translate. But my answer was wrong. Tried a different question, the translation to which was impossibly cryptic. Either Ms Sari only wants higher logicians and mathematicians on her forum or my opinion of Google Translate is vindicated. But I pondered that, if the whole thing is in Hindi, fine, but just that one, ethno-barrier question; which relates to my third port of call.

I happened upon an article of 2010, which lamented and analysed the failure of Indian languages to make an impact online. Whether the failure is really so bad I couldn't say. What I can say for certain, though never having been an Indian person, is that part of the experience of every Indian living in or having contact with the outside world must be that their own linguistic heritage meets the same echo as a raindrop in outer space. I have had the experience, sometimes in China or Russia of a decade ago, sometimes in parts of Africa of much further back, of finding supposedly universal expressions met with blank incomprehension. Nevertheless, generally, if I wanted to use English today, even in Russia, I could probably manage, except of course with bureaucracy.

The article looked mainly at factors internal to India and its history. Perhaps it is taken as a truism that the only role for Indian languages can be among Indians. That idea bears scrutiny for... ? ... five ? ... yes, at most five seconds. What is intrinsic to English, French, Chinese, Spanish, German, Swahili, Arabic and others that is out of the reach of well, let's say Hindi? To think that Hindi can only be applicable to an Indian context is profoundly defeatist. Hindi does have the initial drawback of not using the world's most recognized alphabet; that, to some extent has also helped to keep Russian in its icy cage. But that isn't game, set and match, it just means Hindi has to work harder.

Hindi - supposing that was the language of that broadcast - strikes me as analogous to Chinese. The broadcast language sounded 'grateful' to the ear, not elusive; so, in a different way, does Chinese. Chinese and Hindi both have the barrier of the written form. Chinese has a solution at hand, in the form of pinyin, a fabulous tool for teaching, which Chinese pedagogical authorities bizarrely ignore. They seem to have a belief that adult learners of Chinese are morally obliged to struggle with the written form without the assistance of pinyin after a basic introduction; and that despite the fact that parallel pinyin/character books are widely used among Chinese children and even adolescents. If - when, surely - the Chinese authorities realize the error of their pedagogical ways, Chinese will rapidly shove English aside as the major world lingua franca. I believe that must happen within 40 yrs.

The intrinsic problem with Hindi script is far less forbidding than that of Chinese, but it's still to be reckoned with. I can recall that, long, long after I had mastered the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian text retained a certain strangeness for me, even in just the overall visual impact of the text, but more particularly in regard to the initial loss of the feel for the morphology and etymology. I don't see a way around that problem, other than in hard work on other fronts, to establish some kind of Indian linguistic presence and awareness outside India. The world linguistic map has always been heavily influenced by economic power and prestige. As India rises economically, some thought should be given to how that can translate into worldwide cultural awareness of India. Finally, regarding those fora which showed some concern for keeping up a boundary against those either below a certain linguistic sophistication or outside a certain ethnicity, is that really a helpful attitude in regard to the linguistic welfare of India? Instead of defending against outsiders who might want to take an interest in Indian languages, it might be better to be alert to the activities of those, inside and outside India who have no concern, positive or negative, for Indian languages, but whose actions are liable to blow India's linguistic heritage to smithereens. «less

ThinkVidya Support 24/12/2013

Hello Alumu! Please post your language learning requirement at UrbanPro. We shall connect you with the trainers and institutes that conducts language classes in Indiranagar - Bangalore.

Alumu 24/12/2013

Do we have any language classes held at Indiranagar, Bangalore. Kindly let us know.

Manasvi Vashist 23/12/2013

Hello Mr. Kothari. You can http://www.urbanpro.com/swedish-language-classes.

B.L.Kothari 23/12/2013

I am in service with a private company. We are having a company at Sweden. Generally, documents in Sweden are in Swedish.

We receive this documents in India for processing. Hence to understand the document, writing emails to Swedish peoples and speak Swedish when we visit Sweden. Please write the way, we can learn Swedish

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