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Language with love

H.G. Srinivasa Prasad, who has been teaching Kannada to non- Kannadigas for the last 18 years, firmly believes that language can never be taught by force.

ONE OFTEN hears the complaint that non-Kannadigas living in Bangalore make no effort to learn Kannada. But the question can be turned on its head: Why doesn't Bangalore teach the language of the land to those who come from outside the State? This phenomenon, after all, is peculiar to Bangalore. Non-Kannadigas in towns such as Mysore or Shimoga, one often finds, speak better Kannada than the native speakers themselves.

H.G. Srinivasa Prasad, who has been teaching Kannada to non-Kannadigas for the last 18 years, says: "The problem is that people in Bangalore start talking to a person in his language even before he makes an effort to speak our language. Non-Kannadigas are willing to learn Kannada, but we are not willing to teach them." Mr. Prasad cites the example of one of his students, a research scholar from London, who came to Karnataka to do some fieldwork. "She desperately wanted to learn Kannada, but people insisted on speaking to her in English wherever she went." Finally, she had to tell them: "Look here, I don't know English. Please speak to me in Kannada."

It is this language scene, characteristic of Bangalore, that makes a conscious effort at teaching Kannada necessary, feels Mr. Prasad. For the last 18 years, he has been conducting classes in "practical Kannada" to a spectrum of non-Kannadiga residents of Bangalore.

His students include doctors, nurses, software engineers, lawyers, teachers, and so on. Some of the classes conducted are sponsored by the Kannada Development Authority and the Department of Kannada and Culture. Mr. Prasad and a few of his like-minded friends have now come together to form Kannada Prasara Parishat, to propagate Kannada.

For Mr. Prasad, an employee of the Reserve Bank of India, teaching Kannada is both a way of expressing his love for the language and a break from the monotonous dealings with cash. While he was doing his masters degree in Kannada from Mysore university, his teacher and a well-known poet, Chennaveera Kanavi, had said: "Becoming a Kannada teacher is not the only way of serving the Kannada cause. You should go into different fields and create a Kannada atmosphere everywhere."

Mr. Prasad learnt the special skill of teaching Kannada to non-Kannadiga adults at a course conducted by the Department of Kannada and Culture many years ago. Among the 30-odd people who attended the course, only Mr. Prasad and a couple of others actually took to teaching Kannada.

Mr. Prasad and his friends conduct two batches of Kannada classes (100 hours each) every year: From January to June and from July to December.

He also holds classes in industries and other establishments on request. (Those interested can call 3484449.) The teaching methodology adopted in these classes is very different from what language learning involves at the school level. "We are teaching adults who already know a language. So, learning here involves, at once, unlearning set notions about language and building on what they already know," says Mr. Prasad.

The emphasis is primarily on the spoken language. "Grammar and script come later."

The grouping of the letters of the alphabet is also very different from what one is taught at the school level: According to the similarity of shapes.

And English is a strict "No" in Mr. Prasad's classes. "Teaching any language through translation is always counter-productive, specially when language structures as diverse as those of Kannada and English."

Mr. Prasad adds that it is very important to hold the attention of the students by keeping the classes lively, since adults, unlike children in a conservative school, can always opt out of the class. "I use a lot of humour, often related to the blunders made by new learners." This helps them open up and shed apprehensions about making mistakes. "It is important not to feel shy and self-conscious."

Mr. Prasad firmly believes that a language can never be taught by force. "Anything that is imposed will not last." He always makes it a point to tell his students: "You are my friend whether or not you learn Kannada."

Considering that a person who cannot speak Kannada can manage perfectly well in Bangalore, why should one even make an effort to learn Kannada?

He quotes what the late poet, Su. Ram. Ekkundi, had said while inaugurating one of his Kannada courses: "Learning the language of the land is like saying `Thank you' to your host when you go to someone's house and accept his or her hospitality. It is one's primary duty."

His classes, he also hopes, will add their own mite in building a Kannada atmosphere and plenty of goodwill in the burgeoning metropolis of Bangalore.


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