While the Ministry of Human Resource Development is mulling the proposal to introduce a three-language formula which will make studying a foreign language more difficult for school students city schools are urging students to learn Spanish, German or French if they want to jazz up their college applications and soak in a new culture.
Educators and child development specialists argued that restricting foreign languages will not help in promoting Indian ones. They said that for a student, learning a new language is more than just acquiring linguistic skills; it opens a window to an entirely unfamiliar culture and offers a fresh perspective on life.
“We respect that the government wants to ensure that Indian languages are not neglected, but depriving students of learning a foreign language would be like clipping their wings off,” said Katherine James, principal, Orchid International School, Malad. “We want our students to become global citizens.”
Introducing fun ways of learning foreign languages, Jamnabai Narsee International School, Juhu, for instance, has started an immersion programme in Spanish. Students go to study the language in Spain, live there in dorms or hostels arranged by the institution, interact with the natives and get a taste of the local life.
“This is one of the best ways to pick up the language,” said Jasmine Madhani, principal of the school, which offers French and Spanish from Class 6. Highlighting the importance of learning foreign languages, Madhani said, “Learning foreign languages prepares students for the future so that they can apply for jobs in multinational companies that have clients from across the globe.”
Garodia International School, Ghatkopar, recently held a German spelling bee in which students were asked to identify words through puzzles, pictures and other props. “We offer the language because we think Germany holds huge potential as a destination for further studies,” said Nishant Garodia, managing director of the group that runs the school. “Unlike other countries, studying in Germany is easy on the pocket as colleges there charge minimal fees.”
A growing demand from parents is propelling these schools to continue offering these languages. From this year, Cathedral and John Connon School in Fort will expand its after-school French programme to include students from Class 3 onwards. It was earlier restricted to students of Classes 5 to 7. “In school we stick to learning Indian languages but we started these after-school foreign language programmes on parents’ demand,” said Damayanti Bhattacharya, headmistress of the middle school. She added that children are also learning other languages such as Spanish and Mandarin on their own.
The demand for learning foreign languages seem to be tilted in favour of the European languages such as German, French and Spanish as there seem to be a few takers for South Asian languages such as Mandarin and Japanese. Experts said that this is mostly because of lack of tutors and native speakers to practice the language with.
Even though the CBSE had started Mandarin classes in 22 schools across the country, the initiative came to an abrupt halt last year as the Ministry of External Affairs ended its contract with Hanban which is China’s national office for teaching Chinese as a foreign language.
Meanwhile, schools authorities claimed they are trying to strike a balance between Indian and foreign languages. “Schools are not compromising on Indian languages while offering foreign ones. Hindi, Marathi and even Sanskrit are often taught compulsorily in schools,” said Kavita Aggarwal, chief academic advisor, JBCN International Schools in Lower Parel, Oshiwara and Borivli. She added that in Cambridge international board, Hindi and Sanskrit are offered as foreign languages.