Indian language expertise can build you a career with companies (Stock photo)

Gained in translation: Why spending on learning Indian language makes sense

The native Indian languages are making a comeback be it Sanskrit, Hindi, or vernacular. Invest in upgrading your local linguistic skills by subscribing to language apps and courses 

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

At the intersection of technology and culture, a language revival of sorts may be happening. Today, tech giants like Google and Microsoft are creating algorithms for Indian languages. E-commerce giant Amazon just launched its Hindi version. OTT is featuring stories from the Hindi heartland and are reporting a rise in dubbed content in various Indian languages languages. It’s the era when as the CII report puts it- “regional is the new national”. This creates demand for investing in training oneself in native Indian languages.

Why should you learn an Indian language? According to Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), “I believe language is one of the most important aspects of your identity. There are proverbs and sayings which have roots in the history of a particular region. When you learn the language, you learn history and culture which are intertwined and therefore you cannot disassociate language from culture. ICCR is conducting classes in Sanskrit, Hindi and various other Indian languages globally such as in Israel, we have come across the demand for Marathi. I would advise every Indian to learn apart from mother tongue, English, Hindi at least one other native Indian language.”

The importance of Indian regional languages is especially realized by those in marketing and sales, and by politicians and administrators, when they have to reach out to the masses. Being an English scholar will not be enough as you can barely reach 2% of the population. You can’t sell mass-marketed items in English in all the rural pockets of this vast country with English ads and salesmen and shopkeepers who speak only English. Indian languages are important to the arts and entertainment industry. Hindi films, all over India, and regional language films in their respective states will always be more important to the producers than English.

It has become easy for learners to pick up new languages thanks to the easy availability of tech tools. In May 2022, Google Translate introduced Sanskrit along with local Indian languages such as Assamese, Bhojpuri, Dogri, Konkani, Maithili, Mizo and Meiteilon (Manipuri). “There is a long tail of languages that are underrepresented on the web today and translating them is a hard technical problem since translation models are usually trained with bilingual text. However, there is not enough publicly available bilingual text for every language” – said Sundar Pichai, CEO, of Google & Alphabet Inc.

There is a high demand for learning native Indian languages. According to a spokesperson from TechSci Research, a Delhi based research-based management consulting firm -“The Indian government is taking several steps to promote education in regional languages, which will not only help students to learn with their full potential but will also promote different languages of India at the international level. Moreover, when people shift from one state to another, there is a communication gap that can be filled by learning the native language, which creates a high demand for apps for learning Indian languages. The apps for learning Indian languages are at a nascent stage but are gaining popularity among the population as people are inclined to learn native languages. Additionally, the government launched Bhasha Sangam, a mobile app where kids can learn words and sentences in 22 languages. Some apps can translate a full book into different languages, such as the parallel translation of texts application by KursX. It has a monthly subscription of USD1.”

Learning Vernacular

The Indian Vernacular Content Market, which has the unique distinction of having 22 official languages and 1600 dialects, is growing by leaps and bounds. This is due to the rapid digitalization in the country.

India has the second-largest digital population in the world. Anyone thinking of starting a business or building a brand in India should focus on building websites, apps, and social media content that use regional languages. It is because the future of conducting business in India will be defined by the relationships that corporations develop with speakers of regional languages. Brands can focus more on effectively connecting with their present consumers and reaching new audiences by using vernacular ads and directing them to language-specific landing pages. Instead of just translating the content, brands are now thinking about trans-creating inclusive, effective assets to create meaningful interactions that allow people to interact with the brand in a way that feels natural and comfortable.

According to data from Ken Research, a consultancy firm, in a report titled ‘India Vernacular News and Content Market Outlook to 2025’., “The vernacular market grew by a CAGR of ~61% during FY 2017-21 and is poised to expand at a CAGR of ~75% by 2027.

During the pandemic, people adopted online channels to cater to their day-to-day needs like shopping, learning, transacting, and entertainment. That was the time when vernacular digital platforms like Sharechat, Dailyhunt, Koo, Pratilipi, Vokal, and many more boomed.”

The Indian government is also providing support for the vernacular players by launching multiple programs with NITI Aayog’s Vernacular Innovation program being the major boost for companies working in the non English segment.

Said Ranjeet Pratap Singh, Founder, and CEO at Pratilipi, an online self-publishing and audiobook portal, “The market in terms of value is expected to grow around 100%, because the market is very small with the user growth expected to be around 30%.”

The rise and rise of Hindi

India’s most spoken language especially in the Northern belt and Central India has been finding new takers. Whether it’s Google’s investment in its Hindi language tools or the explosive growth of Hindi language newspapers and TV channels, this is a language in demand.

Take the case of translators and Hindi language experts who are much sought after. Translator Monika Rajpal shares she can only take up new projects now by 2025 as she is heavily occupied with her current translation projects.

Another translator in Hindi, Alka Kaushik, says that the time for vernacular content has finally arrived. A student of science in school, English literature in college, Kaushik says she opted for Hindi Journalism as that is the only way to reach masses and is just back from a trip to Spain. In 2012 she started a travel blog (Lyf InTransit) and says , “I was told that travel is an elite subject and going Hindi will be suicidal. But within a year I had 7,500 followers on my Hindi blog and today it is one of the very popular travel blogs and English authors and travel writers often translate my blogs from Hindi to English using apps.”

Says Kaushik, “Earlier Hindi speaking meant jhola chap, someone wearing a kurta pajama and that too shriveled (kurta bhi muchra hua hai). But today Hindi speakers are very well-read, have an identity, and have pockets which are deep. For any brand to thrive in India, they have to go vernacular. Any brand which has to reach far and wide has realised that the numbers of vernacular speaker and reader are far more than English speaking audience. Those who can only speak in English, their percentage is much less. Today anyone from Star, ZEE, Amazon, Flipkart and all interfaces communicate in local Indian languages as that is the only way to increase their reach.”

The Curious Case Of Sanskrit

“Sanskrit is the number one, most requested language at Google Translate, and we are finally adding it,” Isaac Caswell, senior software engineer, Google Research.

So, even though Sanskrit is no longer a “living” language for daily conversation, some people are learning Sanskrit for cultural, historical, research, scientific, logical and linguistic purposes.

According to Prof. Rajnish Mishra, School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies JNU, “The demand is very high for Sanskrit scholars in today’s day and age. There are excellent prospects for a good Sanskrit scholar in the newly emerging area of Sanskrit Computational Linguistics, Speech recognition software, Artificial Intelligence, and Indology. Besides, every university in the world has a Sanskrit department or chair such as the Harvard Oriental Series (which is 94 volumes) translated from Sanskrit to English. This cannot happen without the involvement of a Sanskrit Scholar. There are certain traditional sciences such as Jyotish Vidya, and the Shastras, where the text is all composed in Sanskrit. Again to study our texts of philosophy you need to have studied Sanskrit. The manuscript is a big area and currently, there are 50 million plus manuscripts which are lying unpublished. There is scope for heavy employment at the National mission for the manuscript.”

He adds that even at the school level, every teacher should know Sanskrit because there are fundamental lessons in each and every such as maths (Vedic maths), science, and arts, which can be valuable for students. But the teachers are not trained in the language. Says Prof Mishra, “We need to promote Sanskrit as most of our Sanskrit texts are very high on intellectual level. In fact, there is no parallel of this anywhere in the world, and with great responsibility I am making this statement. It can really be a cutting edge of our civilization.” 

Experts share that it takes 6 months to really understand the language.

At Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, if any school wants to start a Sanskrit course, they give an instructor for free. Only the school has to provide infrastructure and students. At Open Path Shala, an e-learning platform for learning Sanskrit, Hindi, English and other Indian regional languages, a basic course in Sanskrit Grammar costs Rs 499, Sanskrit Grammar Intermediate Rs 650; Basic plus Intermediate Level Rs 1,149. At Multibhashi, an ed-tech language learning platform one class over 60 minutes each costs Rs.99 while 30 classes of 60 min each cost Rs 2,599 and 210 classes Rs 12,999.

Is it easy to learn Sanskrit? Says 34-year-old software professional based out of Bangalore, Siva Menon, “No, it’s not easy, but it is amazingly beautiful. Learning about the linguistic depth of the alphabet, discovering the richness of the language, and catching a glimpse of the spiritual teachings. Sanskrit is a language that will always surprise you. Embarking on this journey is certainly worthwhile… Sanskrit is about vibration: speaking and listening to its sound vibration.”

The language does not have an elite tag and survives on grassroot support with most of the students pursuing higher education coming from rural areas and lower middle class.

Says Dr Chandra, a Sanskrit Professor, Sanskrit Sansthan, Kendriya Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya – “If you want to really know your country, its literature, and culture, then learning Sanskrit is a must, I would say. After all, language is the index of a nation and a treasure trove of its heritage.”

You can learn as many Indian languages as you want by subscribing to these reasonably priced apps below. Sample the price chart below which gives a sense of their monthly subscription

Language Company Application Prices – INR (Monthly)
Sanskrit Little Guru Little Guru 300
Kannada Learn Kannada Language 499
Dogri Bluebird Languages Learn Dogri 890
Telugu Bluebird Languages Learn Telugu 890
Assamese Utalk Utalk 329
Hindi Mondly Learn Hindi, Speak HIndi 199
Marathi Bluebird Languages Learn Marathi 890
Tamil 50 Languages LLC Learn 50 languages 250
Gujarati Utalk Utalk 329
Rajasthani Bluebird Languages Learn Marwari 890
Odia Bluebird Languages Learn Oriya 890
Bengali Simya Solutions Ltd. Ling 253.99
Maithili Bluebird Languages Learn Maithili 890
Chattisgarhi Bluebird Languages Learn Chattisgarhi 890
Punjabi Simya Solutions Ltd. Ling 253.99

Source: Business Standard

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