Interpreters in Kerala bridge the language barrier during tourist season

Sujith Soman taking a break with a group of tourists

Sujith Soman taking a break with a group of tourists   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement


With tourist season peaking in Thiruvananthapuram, language guides are busy speaking in many tongues

When Anand K Nair had a six-month hiatus before his International Business Management course commenced, he decided to learn a foreign language. That was two decades ago. Little did he know that enrolling in a beginner’s level module in French at Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum would change the course of his career. Anand, who works as an ‘Ayurveda consultant’, says his main job is to “simplify Ayurveda jargon” for his French-speaking clients.

Anand K Nair with French nationals

Anand K Nair with French nationals   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Anand says he’s involved in the client-doctor engagement throughout the course of the treatment. “One challenge is to understand human anatomy well. But that comes with experience. At the end of treatments, doctors prepare a client-specific do’s and don'ts to be followed once they get back to their home country and hand out a copy in English with another one with Google translation that quite often is off target,” says Anand, adding that there is where he pitches in with his expertise.

Sebastian AC, who moonlights as a French interpreter with Ayurveda centres and resorts, laughs as he recalls how Google has often come to his rescue. A teacher of French at Christ Nagar International School, Sebastian admits that he found developing a good understanding of medical and Ayurveda terms a challenge. “Most of the times during your interaction with the client, you can’t use English terms. In certain situations, if pressed for the right translation, Google is used. But then I show this to the client and say this is what Google says.”

Sebastian AC (right) with his French teacher Juliette Cahin

Sebastian AC (right) with his French teacher Juliette Cahin   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

However, in the case of Russians, they need assistance during the pre-treatment session, says Ajit Kumar Lekshmonan, a former higher secondary school teacher in Russian. “These visitors have a consultation session with doctors when they have to answer a questionnaire and that’s when I have to help them out.”

Ajit Kumar Lekshmonan

Ajit Kumar Lekshmonan   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Ajit’s first experience as an interpretor was while working with the festival committee of Soviet Festival of India in 1987-88, while pursuing his post-graduation in Russian from the University of Kerala. After undergoing a teachers’ training programme in Russia, he became a full-time interpretor and translator. “The International Children’s Film Festival of India held in 1991 in the city was a major opportunity for me. I also had a three-year stint with Sports Authority of India at Alappuzha where Russian coaches were training our athletes in various water sports disciplines,” he says.

Ajit has been working for several years in tourism, especially health tourism, and trading sectors. “Russian buyers would seek my help when they come down to buy rubber products, while tourists always seek a truly regional experience. In fact, most of them love to explore Chala market. They are also fascinated by our temples, churches, rituals, tradition and the diversity in our culture,” he explains.

Sebastian says a tricky scenario is when foreigners, “fascinated by the exotic idea of astrology”, want to get their horoscopes done and interpreted. “This often turns out to be funny, especially when they are quite incredulous of what they hear,” he says with a chuckle.

Alena Ershova, who runs her own tour company in Thiruvananthapuram recalls an amusing request she received from a 40-member group. “They wanted me to take them to a couple of temples in the state to do poojas, as prescribed by an astrologer. That was a seven-day trip and each member of the group had to do one or two poojas daily!” she says.

A native of Saint-Petersburg in Russia, Aleena’s company deals with tourists from Russian-speaking countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia and Georgia. “I put myself through a learning process about the history, culture and other facets of Kerala before I started my venture here,” says Alena. Her focus has been primarily on promoting Ayurveda. “I also get requests for pilgrimage and photography and art expeditions. In such cases I have to come up with interesting places. Then there are tourists who want to experience village life and life in a regional household,” she says.

Alena Ershova

Alena Ershova   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

According to Sujith Soman, language guides play an important role in projecting the right image of the country and region, by offering factually correct information about the destination. “And having trained linguistic guides is important as not all foreigners are well-versed in English. Often when broken English is used, miscommunication tends to happen,” says Sujith, who runs an Indo-German tour company, Comindia.

Babu Alex, proprietor of Travel Trails, feels knowing the language and culture automatically meant that things could be explained and comparisons could be made in a manner the guest would best understand. “There is nothing better than someone explaining things to you in your mother language,” says Babu.

Babu Alex with a group of tourists at a tea plantation

Babu Alex with a group of tourists at a tea plantation   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Anilkumar S, deputy head of Pushkin Institute of Russian Language, Russian Cultural Centre, says that he has turned interpreter for groups as well as individuals. “The requirement varies from sight-seeing to visiting hill stations. However, health tourists form a majority of travellers from Russian-speaking countries,” says Anilkumar. Besides shopping for Indian clothes and handicrafts, some of them need help in buying Ayurveda medicines, he adds.

Anand, however, feels that many among the younger generation of tourists and travellers speak quite a bit of English compared to their elders, as a result of globalisation. “Also, some have a better idea about the place and culture, thanks to the Internet,” he says with a laugh.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 1:29:10 PM |

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