Premier foreign language institutes are spreading their wings. They are expanding to new neighbourhoods to meet the growing demand for their courses. Liffy Thomas and T.S. Atul Swaminathan report

After staying single-address establishments for long, premier foreign language institutes are now putting down roots in new neighbourhoods. The Alliance Francaise of Madras, a majestic presence on College Road for over six decades, plans to open new French-teaching centres in north and south Chennai.

The Nungambakkam-headquartered Goethe-Institut is equally ambitious in its expansion plans. After having expanded to Adyar, the German institution is all set to begin classes at a new facility in Anna Nagar. It also has its sights set on the southern suburbs: there is a strong indication that new Goethe-Institut centres will come up in Tambaram and Chrompet.

Not just German and French, but there is a spurt in the numbers of all foreign language teaching schools. There are more takers for Spanish and Italian than ever before.

A desire for travel and an inclination to understand other cultures and worldviews have always spurred people on to take up the study of foreign languages. However, the changing contours of international trade and increasing business ties among the nations is the major reason for the galloping interest noticed now. Mandarin is a classic example: businessmen in Chennai that are keen on trade with China have taken up the study of the language. The Chinese Institute of Chennai, which has facilities in Ashok Nagar and Adyar, will shortly expand to Tambaram.

The advent of international manufacturing giants – especially those in the automobile industry – also drives this trend. For example, the demand for Korean is steadily going up, as evidenced by the attendance at InkoCentre (R.A. Puram), which takes classes every Monday and Wednesday.

When the Chennai Chinese Institute started four years ago at Ashok Nagar, it struggled to get 10 students for the first batch of its Mandarin course. “In the years that followed, the numbers increased dramatically. The students were invariably tradesmen motivated by a desire to understand China and its people better,” says Shiv Shankar Nayak, business development head of the institute. The centre has so far trained 300 students. Last year, it opened its branch at Adyar. By the end of June, a centre will be established in Tambaram.

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Diamond jubilee celebrations are in the offing for the Alliance Francaise of Madras, which has over the years made an art of customizing courses to meet changing needs. It offers an array of courses that meet different requirements. To give a bare idea of this variety, it offers Professional French (120 to 240 hrs training) to Scientific French (120 hrs training) and Survival French (60 hrs training).

Encouraged by increasing patronage of such customized packages, the institute is venturing into new neighbourhoods. “We are planning to open branches in Anna Nagar and at Adyar or Guindy,” says Francois Dabin, course director and deputy director at the institute.

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In 2009, when Goethe-Institut was looking to go beyond Nungambakkam, Adyar was its automatic choice. It set up its new centre at the Kumara Rani Menna Muthiah Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Adyar.

And the residential neighborhood did not disappoint. German classes started at the school premises with two classrooms. And, classes are conducted in three other rooms. The Goethe-Institut is looking at other localities. Anna Nagar, Tambaram and Chromepet are some of them.

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In the last 10 years, the Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce in Nungambakkam has taught Italian to nearly 1,000 students, including an eight-year-old. The Chamber’s Italian classes draw a cross-section of people, including language lovers, professionals and students. It gets a native teacher to take these classes.

“The pronunciation is best learnt when you hear it from a native,” says D. Sreevidya, regional manager, Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce.

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Instituto Hispania opened at Besant Nagar only six months ago. With an overwhelming response to its first move, the Spanish language institute has plans to branch out to Anna Nagar and Velachery. It courses are targeted at school and college students, senior citizens and employees of IT and manufacturing companies.

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Weekend Japanese classes at the Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Teynampet, are proving to be popular. About 250 students have currently enrolled with the centre. “As many Japanese companies have set up offices in the city, there are many opportunities as translator and interpreter,” says R. Suguna, secretary general of the Chamber.

S&N Hayakawa Enterprise, Anna Nagar, will show how Japanese can be mastered within six months. It follows its own textbook. So far the institute has been conducting classes only during the weekend, but from July, it plans to extend them to the weekdays.

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