Mind your language

Updated: Aug 04, 2019, 08:51 IST | Nasrin Modak Siddiqi

An institute in Juhu is providing university-quality training in Indian languages - one script at a time

Mind your language

In the lane after Prithvi Theatre in Juhu, in a pristine white bungalow, with a beautiful foyer, lies my school for the day. I'm late for attending a Hindi class that has three students in it. In this school for Indian languages, where there are whiteboards, chairs, desks and a large window, it doesn't feel like school. But, Premchand's Eidgah and Manto's short stories in the library in the reception area put me at ease. Our professor Ali Taqi, who is also the founder-director of the school is teaching the Hindi verb hona (to happen). The class is intense and every doubt is answered with logic. In the end, homework is given as well.

While I was there to observe the class only for a day, my classmates are serious students, who are there to learn for a reason. Caleb Wissun-Bhide is a cinematographer, who has moved from London, and needs to learn the language to interact with his peers; UK citizen Kavita Dattani is an academic, who is here to do fieldwork for her PhD in geography and will need to know Hindi to for her research; Reyes Rigo is a doctor in Chinese medicine and has lived in Mumbai for five years, often with the help of translators. "I thought it was about time I learnt the language," she smiles.

A Hindi class in session. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
A Hindi class in session. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

In a class next door, actor Zach Coffin is taking private lessons in Hindi and is carrying a Hindi translation of Harry Potter. Many had warned Coffin not to learn Hindi in Mumbai as the grammar and vocabulary aren't great, but he is glad to have found great teachers at Zabaan. "Here, I feel I've come back to college. The course is rigorous and they have a lineage of teaching. The teachers anticipate the problems and have logical explanation for your doubts. This philosophical, western approach to teaching is important to the curious mind, that wants to deeply understand the language they are learning," he adds.

Zabaan was started by Ali Taqi, an NRI from Hyderabad and Chicago in 2009 in Delhi, who realised there was a need for such a school in the country. The Mumbai centre was launched after he received several requests from the city. While there are classes for Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Urdu, English, Tamil, Punjabi, Assamese and Persian, Hindi and English have the most enrolment. The teachers are Indian academics who have formal training in language instruction.

Zach Coffin
Zach Coffin

A typical batch ranges from three to eight students, most of who are expats, who need to learn the languages for personal and professional growth. First, they are taught grammar and then basic conversation skills for better understanding. After this, an advanced studies programme is pursued. "When you learn a language at a place like this that values the culture, you end up paying respect to the language and the culture as well," says Coffin.

What: Zabaan School for Languages Where: Bungalow No 5, Janki Kutir, Juhu; 9899548613
Fees: Rs 1,073 onwards per hour
Log on to: www.zabaan.com

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