TIME OUT MAGAZINE
FRIDAY MARCH 19, 2010 MUMBAI
There are more foreign languages being taught in the city that you can shake a phrasebook at, says Zeenat Nagree
Young Mumbai executives, trotting around the globe as they steadily rise up the corporate ladder, are now learning to say bon jour, hola, ni hao, and guten tag, all in the same sentence. They are finding lucrative jobs in hotel management, tourism, information technology, business and knowledge process outsourcing, market research and finance. They’re also fitting into a world that has become a global village by communicating with foreign clients in the language of their choice. As new jobs are generated, languages that were once inaccessible are now often only a weekend course away.
Mandarin, which has the largest number of speakers in the world, began to be taught in the city with a course by the India China Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2004. It has since become a part of the curriculum of management colleges like the MET Institute of Management, the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research and the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies.
Prompting the ICCCI’s decision to introduce Mandarin programmes is the growing trade between India and China. Corporate houses like Tata, Mahindra & Mahindra and Standard Chartered Bank, which have business interest in China, have begun training their employees through the ICCCI and the association has witnessed a surge in enrollments since 2008. “It is a definitely useful tool to have in the business world,” said Madhavi Misra who works at consultancy firm Avalon, and deals with Chinese clients.
Japanese is also in demand among Mumbai’s engineers and managers employed in Japanese companies and among interpreters who are seeing a rise in business from Japan. The countries animation industry is also fuelling interest in the language as translators are often hired to help dub Japanese cartoons into local languages for Indian television. “Most people consider Japanese the toughest language in the world,” said 20 year old Shriya Pilgaonkar who took private lessons in the language when she was still in school. “But grammar and construction is very similar to Marathi, therefore easy for Mumbaikars.”
Spanish is fast finding takers in the city as Indian business interests in Latin American markets grow. “People are now aware that Spanish is the second-most-spoken language in the world,” said Dinesh Govindani, the founder of the 11-year- old Academia de Español, which teaches the language. With Spanish also on the curriculum of Mumbai’s International Baccalaureate Schools, Govindani said that he sees many teachers coming to learn Spanish.
Several privately run institutes offer training in a variety of other languages. They offer private coaching and double up as translation centres, offering job opportunities to the very students they teach. “Translation is great for those who want to make a career using a foreign language without having to travel outside of the city,” Amit Sakrani, founder of Excel Academy, which offers courses in nine languages and takes in only 6 students per batch. The Academy of Foreign Languages and Culture, run solely by polyglot Amrutha Joshi, teaches Dutch, Polish and Estonian in addition to French, Spanish and German and other languages. But few students ask for lessons in these.
The growth of Italian, which is taught at the Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce, the University of Mumbai, KJ Somaiya College and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, hasn’t been as swift. Italian certificate courses, started in 2006 at The University of Mumbai, are still under the Department of French. There are only three batches a year and 20 people in each batch. But lecturer Roberto Bertilaccio, appointed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reports “A growth in the number of students over the past 2 years.”
Of course, French and German still interest language learners. “Germanyis one ofIndia’s largest trading partners inEurope,” said Vaishali Karmarkar of the Goethe Institute, which trains students as well as employees of German companies like Bayer, Deutsch Bank and Siemens. The Alliance Française, which conducts courses in French, registers over 4000 students every year. Many students end up helping French companies set up inIndia. Joel Fernandez, who manages corporate affairs at a leading business house, interacts with French clients everyday. “Almost 90 percent of my interaction at work is in French,” he said. Like other foreign-language speakers in the city, Fernandez has learnt that, in a globalised world, it is imperative to understand what those around you are saying.