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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Hindi bridging the communication gap for expats in Gurugram

A majority of these classes focus on application-based learning.

gurugram Updated: Aug 11, 2019 11:19 IST
Sharanya Munsi
Sharanya Munsi
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
While most take them to help communicate with people they come across on a daily basis, an increasing number of expats are seeking these classes to be more aware of their surroundings and what people say about them.
While most take them to help communicate with people they come across on a daily basis, an increasing number of expats are seeking these classes to be more aware of their surroundings and what people say about them. (HT Photo)

As a parent, handling teenage children at home is never an easy task, especially when they have their secret language to converse in. For Emely Turner from Venezuela, this “secret language” used by her sons at home was none other than Hindi. Having lived in Gurugram for over seven years, her boys picked up on the language at school easily and used it at home when secrets had to be kept from mom. Turner however, spun this around to her advantage and enrolled for Hindi classes herself.

“For a while my boys did not know that I enrolled in a class, so I easily got to eavesdrop on their conversations. But the secret was out when my maid told them about the classes being held in the society,” Turner said. She added that the classes even gifted her the power to bargain at Sarojini market.

Turner is just one of the several expats in the city who are taking Hindi language classes to ease their life in the city. While most take them to help communicate with people they come across on a daily basis, an increasing number of expats are seeking these classes to be more aware of their surroundings and what people say about them.

“I had a student who once asked me what does ‘gori’ mean? She said she has heard her helpers use it and even on road, but could never make out its meaning. When I said it referred to her skin colour, she was amused. She then went on to learn other cuss words just so she can recognise when they are used,” said Sana Hasan, a private Hindi and English tutor based in Sector 25.

A majority of these classes focus on application-based learning. Aparnaa Laxmi Singh, another Hindi tutor, has been teaching expats at her residence for over five years, and Turner is one of her students. During her class with Turner and Joanna Yadav, a Polish resident of her society, the class begins with reciting the date. It is then that Turner remembers that it is her brother’s birthday. Singh explains how she can wish her brother and also how to say “it’s my brother’s birthday”.

“These classes need to be constructed in such a way that they get to use the conversations on a daily basis. It can be something as basic as teaching them how to order food over the phone by specifying the number of people they are ordering for, the items you require and by what time,” Singh said.

While some expats prefer the informal setup, others like to learn at an institute with one-on-one sessions being a an essential criterion.

When Bianca Cosentino shifted to Gurugram from Italy five months ago, she looked up Hindi language classes on Google more than she explored eateries nearby. Her search landed her at an institute near Galleria market where she has been attending classes twice a week.

“English works fine at my job, but when outside it helps to know Hindi as well as when I travel,” said the 29-year-old engineer, who works at a private firm in the city.

Aman Dhiman, who has been teaching expats and is Bianca’s teacher said an expat must specify how much of the language they want to learn before the classes begin.

“You can’t make them learn an entire language in 10 days, so we first ask them why they want to learn and what they expect at the end. Most often, they want to learn the basics like directions to guide their taxi driver, how to bargain, common interactions with domestic help, welcome words, verbs like ‘eating’, ‘sleeping’, ‘working’ and others,” he said. He has been helping expats with Hindi and English classes at the Lingua Encarta institute.

Mariko Marikomorita, a 29-year-old Japanese woman, also signed up for classes soon after she joined her workplace in January. Working for an Indian company that provides relocation services to Asian expats, she had to deal with an Indian boss and colleagues who spoke in Hindi to a great extent.

“I was the only Japanese at the company. At meetings, a lot of instructions were given out in Hindi so I missed out on those. I took Hindi classes for two months and that has helped me pick up on common phrases and also have an understanding of what people are saying about me,” said the Sector 71 resident with a chuckle.

At the Lingua Encarta institute where Bianca takes her class, the institute currently has seven other expat students learning Hindi and English. Their timings evolve around their work schedules and the 10-hour-long course can be broken up into several classes over weeks, depending on the expat’s availability. The number of enrolments vary from time-to-time, but has been steadily rising, said Sanjay Bakshi, a member of the institute’s operations team.

“These expats enrol out of a need to better understand the city they are living in and to become street smart. Theirs is a need-driven language learning. It all adds up to the global nature of Gurugram,” Bakshi said.

The drive to learn languages is not only fuelled by expats who want to learn the local language, though. Indians too are often willing to learn foreign languages from expats, and those settled in the city are steadily entering the teaching stream to teach their native tongue.

Benie Mwaku Deo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to India for her graduation in Bangalore two years ago. She decided to stay back and work for a few years after sensing the demand for language learning.

“I have been teaching French ever since I graduated. I now take classes at different places,” Deo said, in between teaching tenses to a student.

Bakshi added that classes taught by expats are relatively more expensive though there may not be a huge difference in what is taught. However, demand for their classes is greater, he said.

Learning the local laguage is also being used a preparatory measure by expats before they shift. Hasan is, via video conference, currently teaching a student in Japan who is scheduled to shift to the city next month. The student, Maeko, was encouraged to take English classes by her husband who works with an MNC in the city.

“Maeko had very limited English-speaking skills, so naturally there were a lot of hindrances at first. But we slowly overcame those with gestures, sign language and others. She is still working on constructing complete sentences, but we will get there soon,” Hasan said. She added that because Maeko is a homemaker, her classes are generally held after her kids go to bed or when they are in school. Time slots for which she will be available are shared beforehand over text messages.

While the primal need for language classes rises from the need to communicate with people better, sometimes it is also embedded in the need to understand a foreign culture. Aparnaa Laxmi, another private language tutor in the city recently tutored Adriana Lopez Catalan from Spain for over a month. Catalan had made self-study efforts to learn Hindi, but her ability to speak the language remained limited. When she was to marry her long-term Indian boyfriend and settle down in Gurugram, she stepped up her approach and joined Laxmi’s classes.

“The classes helped me blend in better. It helped me understand how to address others, the level of respect to be given with the words I speak and others. I got to know the difference between ‘tu’ and tum,” she added.

First Published: Aug 10, 2019 23:53 IST

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