The Gift of Tongues: Language Courses in Insti

Edited by Neha Cherian

Design by Rohit Reddy

“Lee Min-ho,” “Kim Nam-joon,” “Gong Yoo”, ring out as the students enthusiastically share the names of the Korean personalities they know. The flourishing Hallyu or the Korean wave that refers to the dramatic rise in the popularity of  Korean culture makes its presence known in the new Korean course offered in insti.  That students voluntarily switch on their videos and participate in the online class- a rare phenomenon in itself- also hints at its liveliness.

Language courses in insti have been one of a kind – a blend of leisure and learning, and of course, regularly in high demand. Students speak of them providing a humbling experience and a reprieve from the tedium of other courses.  “After learning tons of theory and numericals it’s nice to take a break and learn how to describe what you did over the weekend in another language,” says Sruthi Sreeram (CE19) regarding the German I course.  She further adds, “Unlike most other courses it seemed like there were people who genuinely wanted to learn.” 

Students speak of them providing a humbling experience and a reprieve from the tedium of other courses.

Be it otakus who want to learn Japanese, k-pop fans who want to understand the lyrics of songs, students who are interested in studying or working abroad, those who like learning new languages and getting to know new cultures or those who just want a peaceful course- there seem to be a myriad of reasons to take a language course. Professor Milind Brahme tells us about the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations he sees in students taking his German course- out of a professional need or ‘just for the heck of it.’ “Some of the best students I have had in my class were BTech students. We all have creative drives within us, and unfortunately in our education system there are not many avenues to express them.  That may be one of the reasons students enjoy language and literature courses,” he continues. However, their popularity also results in many interested students being turned away because of the limited number of seats available.

Anime is one of the biggest motivations to learn Japanese, as evidenced by the presence of anime and manga enthusiasts in the Japanese course. Like most of the other language courses, it is well-structured, interactive and equips the students with basic conversational skills that ensure that they don’t get lost in a foreign country. “The sensei are very nice. They give you personal feedback irrespective of whether you are attending classes or not,” comments Unnikrishnan (ME17) as he relates his proud moment of being able to read the title of a new Attack on Titan episode. 

 A few students who have learned foreign languages in school and insti, point out the differences between the two. Where the former had an emphasis on grammar, the latter actively cultivates skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. The anecdotes and stories shared in classes inevitably make students open up to a foreign culture, providing them with a glimpse of a different way of life. “The way languages are framed gives you an insight into how people over there live. For example, if there is a lot of difference in the language used to speak with elders, you realize that in that country being polite and respectful means a great deal to the people,”  says Devika Dinesh (HS19) as she mentions the cultural differences she got to know about while learning Chinese. Professor Brahme also talks about how knowing German allows him to be at home in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “In these times when people fear and try to suppress the unfamiliar, learning a foreign language can be powerful. John le Carré calls it an act of friendship. It shows the willingness to set aside prejudices and look at a language and the world through it,” he elaborates. Perhaps it is noteworthy to mention that students who have taken his course commend the enthusiasm he brings to all his classes. HS19 students of German II recall the early days of the pandemic, when, after finishing the syllabus, he spent additional hours with them to read stories and poems in German.

Language learning is no bed of roses, lest you be fooled by the general enthusiasm. Picking up the basics of a language includes learning the grammar, difficult characters, regular practice, and going through quite a few experiences of having completely butchered it. An anonymous student of the French course remarks, “The tasks that we are given are doable if we put in the effort. But altogether learning a new language is quite challenging, definitely not as easy as I expected”. Students speak of having learned a very small fraction of languages like Japanese and Chinese by the end of the course because of the huge number of characters and non-phonetic alphabet. While some continue their language journey through activities like watching movies, listening to songs, or taking up another course, others lose touch with it after the course is done, especially in the light of hectic schedules. This is rather unfortunate as quite a few students seem interested in learning more.

While some continue their language journey through activities like watching movies, listening to songs, or taking up another course, others lose touch with it after the course is done, especially in the light of hectic schedules.

As we moved onto the online platform, like every other course, language courses were adversely affected, perhaps substantially so because at the heart of a language class is conversation. Students who have been in HSB during a Chinese lesson may recall the very audible vocal exercises. In an effort to engage the class and include more students in the discussion, short vivas conducted during online classes are common. The French professor, Krishnaveni Kollamal, has made it a mission to learn all the students’ names through these vivas. This has the benefit of letting the students get acclimatized to the language and start constructing and speaking simple sentences. Furthermore, recording voice messages and short videos are also part of the evaluations. 

Classes are dialogue-driven because getting the basics straight involves being with the students every step of the way. Of course, this also calls for equal student engagement, made necessary if not easier by the fact that the classroom model makes it harder for one’s attention to stray. Attendance is also taken seriously, with warnings issued every time it drops. Of course, that doesn’t mean that complaints like, “It’s all sweet until she asks you questions in pure French for 5 minutes” aren’t common. Perennial issues of connectivity aside, perhaps it is the stricter-than-usual attendance and interaction in online language courses that help them recreate a traditional classroom experience.

In these times, with the days easily turning monotonous and deadlines always around the corner, language courses seem to provide much-needed respite and recreation to students, especially if they interact in the class. They can be filled with stories, interesting facts, and struggles to speak basic sentences while poking fun at your friends’ attempts. If you want to recapture the fun of learning the literal ABCs of something new, language courses could very well be an option the next time you register for courses. And if you do luck out, well then, you can look forward to wowing people by dishing out a casual merci or daijoubu.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *