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Gift of the gab

With trade zones getting more blurred each day, the demand for people who know foreign languages keeps steadily increasing.

I n the beginning was the word, says The Bible. Then came various languages that divided the world according to the tongue one spoke. The world continues to remain divided into various language zones but with trade zones getting blurred, the demand for people knowing foreign languages has grown manifold.

In India, globalisation opened the doors to MNCs and with them came the demand for interpreters, translators, guides, escorts. The basic requirement to pursue a career in foreign languages is fluency in written and spoken languages and that can be picked up from a number of institutes offer foreign language courses. The most sought-after is Jawaharlal Nehru University, which offers a three-year degree course in several languages, including French, German, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Persian.. The latest offering is the Greek language course. The three-year course leads to a Master's in the same language and a M. Phil and Ph. D. thereafter.

It is remarkable that the three-year course is all comprehensive -it is not just about spoken and written language, the students get to know about the history, culture, literature of the respective country. "I want to join the PR wing of an MNC and so I took up the three-year German language course in JNU," says Priyanka Sharma, who can rattle off facts about Germany.

Besides JNU, French is offered at Alliance Francaise centres spread all over the country, German at Max Mueller Bhawan, Japanese at Japan Cultural and Information Centre, while hordes of private institutes offer courses in various foreign languages. The other major centres are Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan and Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages in Hyderabad. Those really keen on pursuing a careers in foreign languages can also opt for Masters' in German and French language and literature offered by universities in the parent country. "A lot of Indian students go to Germany to do a full-time course in the language," says Hannelore Bossman, Director, DAAD, the German Education Centre in New Delhi.

Most of the foreign language institutes offer modules varying from full-courses to part-time courses, some even offer a special teachers' training modules. The full course offered by the Japan Cultural Centre is divided into five modules each costing Rs 3,000.. The French classes in Alliance Francaise can run from few days to several weeks and the tuition fee varies accordingly from Rs 1,550 to Rs 3,500. Learning German at Max Mueller Bhawan is a long-drawn process, six semesters of six months each. One can pick up Korean at Indian Institute of Korean Culture and Language in Laxminagar, where the course fee is Rs 2,000 a month.

Though a lot of languages are on offer, the main question is: which language should one go for? The choice definitely depends on which sector one is aiming. If one is looking at the travel and tourism sector, it is good to study the market first before opting for a language. Like the Keshav brothers, who chose Korean. "The market is flooded with people who know French and German," says Amit Keshav, the eldest of the three brothers who now run a travel agency, "but we opted for Korean because not many knew it and we were aiming to tap the Korean tourist sector." Other than being tourist guides and interpreters, they have also found job with a firm in Udaipur which has started a marble-granite business with a Korean firm. "Money can flow in different ways. During the lean tourist season, we also end up translating a lot of business proposals and tenders," adds Sumit Keshav of Sheila Travels, who has already visited Korea to tap the market there.

Others like Surbhi opted for Japanese because she knew she would be absorbed by the embassy which is always looking for people who can speak their language. Priyanka opted for German for a different reason, three years from now she wants to see herself in the PR wing of an MNC. A number of hotel management students opt for a foreign language. "Anyone who knows a foreign language definitely has an edge over others who can just speak Hindi and English, but knowing a foreign language is riot a must to get into the hospitality sector," says Tarun Thakral, General Manager, Le Meridien, New Delhi. Those looking for a more secure job can also work as interpreters with the government; others find job as translators with government bodies.

Another sector which has opened to foreign language professionals is publishing. A lot of books written by foreign authors find their way on to the book shelves as translated versions. Though a lot of these are done by freelancers, but some publishing houses employ them on a regular basis. So, pick up a foreign language and opportunities will knock at your door.

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