H. Shrithula has a useful analogy for those who think that learning Chinese is difficult: “Chinese is similar to Tamil. If you know Tamil, it’s easy to learn Chinese.”
The Arsha Vidya Mandir student started learning Chinese to gain an insight into the culture of that country, a glimpse of which she has already had. The 15-year-old recalls her visit to China during the 2008 Olympics: “When we had to go to a particular place in Beijing, we could not communicate at all.” She hopes learning a language which is spoken by very few Indians will give her a head start over her peers.
“Students hear about slowdown in the U.S. and stagnation in Europe, and at the same time about Chinese economy growing. They see a lot of Chinese products around them. So they want to learn Chinese”, says N. Balakrishnan, director, Chinese Institute of Chennai. The trend of college students learning Chinese is picking, he says.
“This trend will only get stronger. Students want to learn Chinese because it may benefit them in future,” says Sandip Dang, Director of In a Word, a foreign language school.
Twenty-one-year-old Pratheek, a student of St. Joseph’s College of Engineering, wanted to learn a foreign language. But why did he choose Chinese? “I wanted to set myself apart,” he says. As the might of that country’s economy grows, says Pratheek, Chinese language will open whole new vistas for him.
Foreign language institutes in the city say they are being increasingly approached by colleges interested in equipping their students with the knowledge of Chinese.
Malleswar Umaithurai, who is pursuing a postgraduate degree at the Chennai Business School, says his mentors at college advised him to learn Chinese as the language would enhance his employability. “I want to explore job opportunities in China.”
IIT-Madras’ China Studies Centre started a two-level course in Chinese language for its students last year. “By learning Chinese you are going to be in a very advantageous position,” says Sonika Gupta, Co-ordinator, IIT-M China Studies Centre.
A few fresh-out-of-school students are learning Chinese with the aim of having a strong grounding in the language before they go to China to pursue a medical degree, says Mr. Dang.
However, it is the entrepreneurs who continue to lead the trend of learning Chinese. Their endeavours to learn the language are driven by an immediate interest in trade whereas young students look for long term benefits. Earlier, the CBSE had planned to introduce Chinese in schools. It had to drop the idea as Indian teachers could not be trained in the language.