George Kurien has been teaching German for the past 25 years. Efforts are on to publish his detailed notes as study material for aspiring students

“I hope you keep time,” George Kurien says, a tad sternly over telephone, for an interview at 11.30 a.m. The 73-year-old German teacher is “very particular” about time. He does not use a cell phone and believes in learning for the sake of knowledge. Prof. Kurien holds the values of the old world close to his heart. Old world because “learning these days has become purely examination-oriented. There is no sincerity. Since when have we become so materialistic?” he asks.

For over 25 years, Kurien has been teaching German. A room on the upper storey of his house in Kacheripadi is his classroom, where he spends the entire day—from 5.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. Generations of students have learnt German from him, most of them with an aim of migrating to Germany. “I still get a lot of calls from students who want to know if they would get a certificate from me. But I refuse. I teach a language,” he says.

An M.Sc in chemistry from Maharaja's College, Kochi, Kurien started his teaching career at Sacred Heart College, Thevara, as a chemistry professor. When he won a scholarship from the German Cultural Ministry for doing research in oils and fats, he decided to move to Germany. “It was the 60s and I was only 21. I did not know a word of German and I went without any training.” For three months he found it extremely difficult to communicate. “It did not affect my work much, for if you know the language of chemistry, spoken language is not a barrier.”

Self-taught

However, Kurien was determined to teach himself German. He attended a short course and later, worked on the ethos of the language. By the time he returned to India in 1970, he was fluent in German. “I could read and write and speak and enjoy the language.” Though teaching was never on the horizon, Kurien’s sister, who was a German teacher at the Cochin University of Science and Technology, entrusted a few of her students to his care. “That was a small batch and I learnt that I enjoyed imparting my knowledge of the language.” Even as he started his own company, Noah Marine Paints in Aroor, which deals with marine paints and resins, he continued teaching German.

Kurien’s students say he teaches language like he would chemistry—scientific and extremely methodical. Considered to be one of the most difficult of European languages, German requires thorough understanding and practice. Right from the first day, Kurien teaches his students to read and speak. “Speaking is to make sentences. If you can make sentences, you can speak,” he says.

Importance of sincerity

Kurien believes one can learn a language and do justice to it only if it is for a purpose. “You need to use it regularly. I think students are sincere to it only when there is a necessity.” He turns down students who come to learn German for the sake of love for the language. “It may seem harsh. But in my experience, very few people have actually learnt it for the joy of learning. Most of them drop out after a few classes.” However, there are a few whom he entertains. For instance, he recently had a 60-year-old retired bank officer, who approached him for classes. “He just wanted to go to Germany to be with his daughter for a few months. Knowledge of the language is not required, but he insisted that I teach him and I did. He did a good job.”

Demand for German is growing and Kurien still gets calls from institutions and students. “But I discourage them. I am not a peddler. I cannot bring language to your doorstep. Education is something you have to seek.” In his free time, he translates documents, manuscripts and correspondences from German to English and vice versa. Kurien keeps his interest alive by reading fiction as well as non-fiction in German. Among his favourites are The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann and works by Heinrich Boll. Efforts are on to publish Kurien’s detailed notes as study material for aspiring students.