Wilfred Robin hardly looks like a teacher, let alone a teacher of foreign languages. With a flourish he takes out notebooks from his backpack, one after the other, and opens them for us. Each book, full of handwritten notes, is devoted to one particular language. Say, Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, Russian… Words in Malayalam indicate pronunciation of words in different languages. “I’ve made these notes on my own,” he says, all excited.
Wilfred, who lives in Chempazhanthy, is a freelancer who goes to his students' homes to teach. “I used to give tuitions as a class ten student. I loved to learn and teach others. I worked in a tutorial, teaching English and Hindi,” says Wilfred.
The first foreign language that attracted him was Russian. “Under the auspices of the Soviet Cultural Centre in the city, a grand procession was taken out. Though I wanted to interact with the participants, they didn’t know English and I didn’t know Russian. That was why I started learning Russian, all by myself,” he says.
Over the years he claims to have picked up other languages, on his own, either by reading/referring books, which include Russian, German, French, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek and Portuguese. “If you know Spanish, it is easy to learn French, German, Italian and Latin,” says Wilfred, who is equally proficient in a handful of Indian languages.
He is also the founder and president of Indo-International Friendship Society which promotes foreign language learning. “We help people by getting them books/notes and guide them. Of late, more people are showing interest in learning Chinese. Though there aren’t any centres teaching Chinese here, I can definitely help them with the notes,” he says, adding: “It is very difficult to learn Chinese, but is absolutely exciting. For example, when you refer to forest, you actually draw a tree!”
His students include both the young and the old. Though he charges a fee for taking classes, the foreign language training is mostly done free. “The Society is planning to open an institute. We’ve joined hands with residents’ associations to popularise foreign languages. I also hope to bring out books compiling the notes I’ve prepared. Then I’d open a book stall one day…” he lists his plans.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)