Foreign languages, no more a barrier
The need to know a language spans beyond just communication. This is what I gathered while reporting on expats of the city learning Hindi and English. While my report mostly focused on expats learning local languages to make their everyday living easier in a foreign land, I also learnt other reasons why people are keen to learn a language other than their own.
A language institute employee I interviewed for the story told me that a few months ago, a middle-aged man working for a multinational company walked up to their desk, slapped a blank check and demanded that he be taught Spanish in the next 10 hours, but with one single condition — he wanted to learn only curse words. He said he had just been transferred to a factory outside Barcelona to look after its management. If he failed to understand a situation and react to appropriately to it, he might be considered inept, he feared.
The drive to learn a new language is also boosted by industry verticals. College admission season, these institutes see a rush for classes as students applying for courses abroad want to pick up the language of the university they are applying for. For example, fashion industry enthusiasts get on board with Italian classes whereas those willing to enter the automotive industry try to increase their German vocabulary beyond ‘Das Auto’. Culinary school applicants make a beeline for French classes to get the right pronunciation of souffle.
After speaking to multiple expats in the city, who were struggling with the right usage of ‘ki’ and ‘ka’, something I am yet to master as a Bengali, it was fascinating to see how knowing the local language has empowered them. It lets them be street-smart and confident, an expat said.
Another one said it gave her the power to bargain at Sarojini for supplies for an NGO she helps out with. Simply knowing ‘bahut zyada’ and ‘thoda kam’ made all the difference in how sellers dealt with her. In another instance, a Japanese expat shared that keeping her Hindi skills a secret at the workplace meant she got to know all the gossip before board meetings, including those about her.