Some teachers, parents feel that learning a new language is a burden

‘Tumhara naam kya hai' asks Getsey Aishwarya Prakash, a class VII student of Zion Matriculation Higher Secondary School, in her carefully rehearsed Hindi. “In school they teach us Tamil and English. But I am interested in learning Hindi, so I joined a tuition class two months back. Now I know some new words and sentences,” she says.

Aishwarya joins many other students in her tuition class who wants to learn a third language, but is not offered as part of the school curriculum.

Many students take up an additional language such as French, German, Hindi and other regional languages as a value-addition or to learn their mother tongue when not taught in schools. Learning a new language gives students a wider perspective about a new culture, say experts, but there are not many takers.

Some teachers, parents and students feel learning a new language is a burden because it is still not seen as part of the main curriculum.

In CBSE and many Matriculation schools, it is compulsory to learn a third language for three years – classes VI to VIII. And in some schools, it is offered as an optional subject where there is no exam.

Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School offers Hindi and French as optional subjects for students up to class VI. Tamil and English are compulsory subjects for all students.

“But very few students take up the third language,” says G.J. Manohar, headmaster. He says that as students are not evaluated through an examination the emphasis on grammar questions is less. “The method of teaching is more flexible and it is not required that the syllabus has to be completed before the examination,” says Mr. Manohar.

Many other schools where students have a choice to learn a third language follow a less structured curriculum. This is done so that students enjoy learning the language and feel no pressure to perform in an examination.

But government and government-aided schools do not offer a third language.

“To secure a State government job, only Tamil is required. But when students go to other States, it will be useful to know a language like Hindi. Exams should not be compulsory as it will add pressure on students, but it helps to know an additional language,” says V. Kumar, a teacher at a government school.

Minority language institutions, however, differ on this issue. They say that students interested in pursuing a B.A. in subjects such as Malayalam, Telugu or Urdu will not be able to do so, because the marks scored in the minority language are not included in the total score in higher secondary examinations.

Before the Tamil Nadu Tamil Learning Act, schools offered other languages such as Telugu, Urdu and other languages as a substitute for Tamil. But once the Act was passed in 2006, the rules for language teaching in schools underwent a change.

“Now since it is only optional that students learn their mother tongue, many parents will not insist that their wards learn the language as they would not want them to study another subject,” says CMK Reddy, Chairman, Linguistic Minorities Forum of Tamil Nadu.