“Spend your holidays in the best possible way by learning French, German and Spanish in just two months - Special discounts available for first comers.” So says an advertisement visible in many areas of the city, while many similar ones do the rounds on the internet.

With learning foreign languages for professional and educational purposes increasingly in vogue, a number of tutors and centres in the city are offering to teach students and corporate employees.

The challenge, however, experts say, is to help the students distinguish between learning a new language and getting an idea of how it ‘sounds like.'

“Many aspiring learners do not compare the offerings of language classes in terms of the time and syllabus. Many go for the lesser expensive ones only to learn nothing substantial,” says Prabhakar Narayanan, Head of the Language Department, Max Mueller Bhavan. Qualification and experience of the tutor are the foremost things to be checked, he adds.

“Unless you undergo training at a good institute, it does not help. I did learn French at a small-time institute, but when my French colleagues answered my question in a way different from what I expected, I was lost,” says Bhanumathi Rajan, an IT employee.

Sathish Kumar.B. of Lucas TVS feels such an experience is not a waste; for him, just being able to understand what his German and Korean colleagues are saying, helps a lot. “Knowing just the business language is what most of us want, rather than looking for translators all the time. Intensive and comprehensive teaching is often expensive and takes a long time,” he says.

Claims of a huge number of IT employees knowing a particular language help a company clinch projects from that country, and a ‘certificate' is what most engineering graduates look for to be part of such projects and go abroad, says Kalyani Natarajan, an HR consultant.

Many software companies outsource their foreign language teaching to reputed institutes that conduct intensive tailor-made courses. “It is not complete learning. We try to familiarise the candidate with the basic knowledge of the language,” says Shamila of Inaword Institute.

And there are small time players too. “We try to make the most of this time,” says K.Prasanna, a French tutor, in an institute in T. Nagar. Over the years, owing to shortage of tutors, he has learnt Spanish and German too, and tutors candidates on them. “Many prefer getting a certificate from a reputed and recognised institute. We are mainly for those who cannot afford them or people who are not keen on getting a thorough knowledge, and that number is fairly large, increasing by almost 30 per cent every year,” he says.

These intensive courses, mostly measured in terms of hours, are spread over two months and cost around Rs.7,000.

While the main takers of these courses are software professionals, with 90 per cent of the weekend batch consisting of them, the demand for a particular language depends more on the economy and opportunities in that country than on the individual's choice. “Last year I would have thought that taking an Asian language would have been safer. With the western market picking up, I am learning Spanish now,” says Ganesh Subramanium, a software professional.

Merely ice-breakers

“The quick courses can be basic ‘ice breakers' or emergency survival kits, that won't help you manage long-term in country” says Chitra Krishnan, head, department of French and other foreign languages, and director, University Centre for International Relations, Madras University.

Most experts suggest taking up courses at institutes that give certificates attesting the candidate's level. They also say no to learning multiple languages at the same time, she said.

“While catching them young, can be a solution, the adult learners must be prepared to change and adapt to new language structures. A common problem faced by most language teachers is helping students unlearn the wrong practices of languages learnt,” adds Ms. Krishnan.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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