Chayan Majumder, 30, a Chennai-based entrepreneur, still recalls the difficulty encountered by him during his first visit to China, where he often travels as part of an import-export garment business he runs.

“I had a tough time during my early visits as it was difficult to describe small things or even ask for directions to a place or a restaurant. Everything is written and spoken in Chinese,” he says.

Now, for over a month, Mr. Majumder has joined five others businessmen at a language school here to learn the basics of Mandarin. The businessman, who is well-versed in English, Tamil, Hindi and Bengali, is confident that knowing this foreign language will help him do better trade.

Like Mr. Majumder an increasing number of adults, many in their 40s, want to get familiar with Mandarin. Foreign language centres say that learning Mandarin/Chinese is the latest trend in the city, replacing Japanese, for small and medium entrepreneurs in the manufacturing, engineering and garment sectors. There is also an advantage of learning Mandarin for people who travel to Singapore and Malaysia.

Sandip Dang, Director of In a Word, a language school, says the profile of students approaching them to learn Chinese is different from that of those studying other foreign languages.

They may not be highly educated or fluent in English but they travel to China often and business is their main motive, he says.

At Language Labs, the 50-hour programme is called ‘Survival course'.

Nearly 40 per cent of their students learning Mandarin are from the corporate sector, and in a batch of 20 to 25 people at least seven are doing business with China. Ravi Ganesh, Project Manger with Infosys Technologies, who is entering the second level of Mandarin where he would learn the script too, says he would be at an advantage if his company bags a new project in China.

But teaching adults is no easy job. N. Moganna Piriyai, Director of Chinese Studies and a tutor at Chinese Institute of Chennai, says, “When I teach children they absorb fast. But for those in the 40s and 50s, we bring in audio-video visuals, plenty of examples and conversation,” she says.

The requirements of adults also vary. “They want to learn how to book a hotel room, business terms for quotation, invoice and some want a document translated,” she adds. The Institute recently tied up with the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, and five people are currently enrolled in the first level of Mandarin.

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012