A Union home ministry circular issued the day after the Narendra Modi government was sworn has not re-ignited the “Hindi imposition” debate but also highlighted the importance that we attach to our mother tongue. Of late, many American business schools have introduced Hindi as part of their curriculum. The language is seen as a facilitator that helps American students conduct business in India and connect them with “young Indian entrepreneurs who feel comfortable doing business in Hindi”.
The Wharton Business School is one such institute. According to Mauro F Guillen, director, Lauder Institute, and Dr Felix Zandman, professor of international management, The Wharton School, the mission of the Joseph H Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies, is to prepare leaders who are adept at navigating diverse business cultures. “We realise that language proficiency is an invaluable asset in this regard,” Guillen says.
At Lauder, the Hindi programme was started in May 2011, knowing very well that although English is commonly used in Indian business contexts, proficiency of Hindi and through it the access to an understanding of India’s social, economic, political, cultural scenarios is crucial for operating successfully within the Indian business world, especially in the areas of marketing, human resources, and the like.
Students enrolled in the Hindi programme participate in an eight-week in-country immersion, and during their two-year graduate programme at University of Pennsylvania’s Lauder Institute, critically engage with literature as well as readings in politics, economics and other disciplines in Hindi. They also have opportunities to conduct research projects.
The Class of 2013 was the first batch of Lauder Hindi Programme students who began the course in May 2011. Since then the Lauder Hindi Programme has had 17 students till date. In order to be admitted to the Lauder Programme, students have to demonstrate an advanced level (on the ACTFL scale) of oral proficiency in the language programme they opt for. “Therefore, students of the Hindi Programme already come with an oral fluency in Hindi, having either worked, studied, lived in Hindi-speaking regions or very often being exposed to Hindi in informal settings. During their time at Lauder they further improve their Hindi to master communication in different registers and contexts (both informal and formal/professional) and improve their Hindi literacy skills while deepening their understanding about India. Students of the Hindi programme add to the rich diversity of Lauder’s community in terms of professional backgrounds. The sectors they’ve worked in, to mention a few, range from micro-finance, consulting services in healthcare, biotechnology, etc., to private equity and philanthropic foundations,” he explains.
The objective of the programme is to help students develop a high-level of language proficiency that involves critical thinking across a variety of subjects such as politics, history, literature, economics, and analyse how these impact business structures and practices within the Indian context. This inter-disciplinary approach of the programme, makes students effective communicators in Hindi and also deepens their understanding of the frameworks that shape communication. Students have also remarked that fluency in Hindi is helpful in building trust and acceptance within professional contexts.
During their summer immersion (AIIS programme held in India), students have the opportunity to meet people from different types of businesses. For instance, they have interacted with the dabbawallahs, NGOs engaged with microfinance and education, the emerging Indian e-commerce companies and others from a variety of sectors (finance, retail, construction etc.) and compositions (multinational, national, family-owned etc.), he adds.
Students receive a joint degree on graduating from the Lauder Institute, Wharton MBA with a master’s in international studies or a joint JD/MA degree. The programme is part of their MA curriculum.