Communication – be it verbal or non-verbal – forms the essence of everything in life.
An integral part of verbal communication is a language. In today’s globalised world, where almost everything is so fast paced, understanding this world of ours, which is constantly ‘shrinking’ is vital, and an important aspect of this understanding is the understanding of the countries that make it, along with their cultures and languages. As Goethe said “Those who know nothing of foreign languages, know nothing of their own.”
They say that for every new language you speak, you live a new life.
In India, many students learn foreign languages because of varied reasons. And, it is not only the language learnt, but, in addition, and most importantly, the associated culture understood.
Pedro Navarro Serrano, Head of Studies, Instituto Cervantes elaborates “In India, thousands of students have learnt Spanish ever since its inception, since the 1970s, at the University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University. At Instituto Cervantes – the Spanish Cultural Center – which is, in fact, attached to the Embassy of Spain, more than ten thousand students have learnt Spanish till date,across various levels offered, since the institute’s inception in 2009. Spanish, besides being one of the official languages of the United Nations, is also the second language of the United States, an important strategic partner of India. It is also currently the third most commonly spoken language worldwide and hence important for international relations.”
Higher remuneration potential, growing bi-lateral relations, tourism, scholarships and higher studies are some of the most prominent reasons for studying a foreign language. Having said that, how true is it that learning a language actually means understanding the culture associated?
"Spanish is a language of culture – be it in its rich literature or the energy-packed dances like Salsa, Tango and many others. Not to forget the Spanish cuisine, which is now being widely sampled,” Serrano adds.
Travelling to another part of the world: Korea. Roughly 700 students are currently studying Korean language in Delhi and NCR itself, out of which approximately 230 students are studying at Sejong Hakdang, a language institution in the Korean Cultural Centre India (KCCI). Of course, there may surely be more people learning Korean all over India, but an accurate number is not known. The presence of a number of Korean companies in India, tourism and education serve as the main motivators, amongst Indian students, for studying the language. At the institute, it is understood that learning a language needs a deeper understanding of the culture, as both are strongly interconnected. Many students are interested in Korean culture, which is what they understand better when they learn the language. Different types of courses are offered, as per the requirements: right from certificate courses to advanced levels, weekday and weekend courses and so on.
The language is learnt within the synthesis of four different skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The instructional language is, however, English. Many students are pursuing their goals in academics and employment, which requires them to take the TOPIK or Test of Proficiency in Korean, the preparation of which is facilitated by the institute itself.
French is another language which sees an active enrolment of students. According to Alliance Francaise (AF) in New Delhi, the year 2016 saw more than 40,500 students enrol for French courses, with the AF institutes across India and Nepal, of which approximately 25,700 students had enrolled for the very first time as complete beginners! The courses are offered in a manner enabling either extensive or intensive learning, depending on the time available.
“India and France share strong bi-lateral relations, with Indian students sharing a rich interest in arts and cuisine, enabling an ease in expression through the language itself. Most new French learners we meet, wish to move to France or another Francophone country in order to pursue education in the fields of art, business, gastronomy and literature, amongst others. Many of them wish to have a certain flair for a new expression, in a new language, in order to immerse in a new culture and to grow as an individual,” Head Counsellor, AF Delhi, Rachit Dhawan says.
So is learning a language synonymous with getting to know the culture?
Dhawan elaborates “Indeed, as they are the two sides of the same coin. An individual’s personality not only adapts to the new words and sounds of a new language, but one grows internally to a new cultural expression. It not only offers a new way of life but also a connection with another part of the self.”
Teaching a language, is known to be quite a creative challenge, and not without reason. Serrano agrees “In the case of teaching Spanish, the opportunity for linguistic immersion is scarce, mainly due to the geographical distance between the two countries. Interactive didactic tools and techniques are an integral part of the teaching process, for which instructors receive constant training and scholarships in order to upgrade their skills at various universities across Spain.”
“At the institute, emphasis is laid on teaching a language in a creative and interactive way. We employ the use of various tools and techniques which are more example, activity, imitations and action based; and the medium of instruction has to be the language itself, even if it is a beginner’s class. The idea is to acclimatize the learner with the accent, encourage a simplified thought-process and reduce word-to- word translation,” Dhawan adds.
Another European language, which gaining popularity is Portuguese. As per the Portuguese Embassy Cultural Centre, 400-500 students enrol annually. However, with the BPO and KPO sectors hiring Portuguese speakers, this number has been rising steadily.
Here again, the culture of the country is showcased through the medium of language, and with the usage of audio and visual didactic material. Students are encouraged to attend cultural events and talks, conferences and seminars on Indo-Portuguese themes or topics related to Portuguese speaking countries. This also provides the students the unique opportunity to speak with native speakers. Beside this, regular screening of films and documentaries provide the students additional exposure to the language.
As Nelson Mandela once said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” No wonder languages are the best ice breakers in the world…they touch the heart more than anything else…