Credits: Goethe-Institut, Students at a foreign language class at Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan

Where to learn a foreign language for travel, career or cultural enrichment

Today apps will help you pick up European, Oriental and Arabic on your smartphone. You can also go for short-term courses at edtechs or full-blown ones at regular institutions

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

If you’ve spent time in a country whose native language you don’t speak, you know how painful and embarrassing it can be to be able to communicate only through facial expressions, sign language and a handful of poorly-pronounced phrases. “When I was in France, I went to a beauty salon for a haircut,” recalls Delhi-based homemaker Manju Malhotra. “When I asked them to make my hair “petite” as that was the only word I knew, they cut it so short that I hated myself.” She confesses that being able to speak the right language, even at a basic level, makes it convenient to run small errands such as shopping or ordering food at restaurants, understanding cultural nuances, and exploring new places “like a local”.

Being able to communicate with people in their language is the easiest way to connect with them. Other reasons for learning a foreign language include advancing one’s career, deepening one’s understanding of other cultures and exploring the world.

Technology enables language learning

Thanks to digital learning platforms and apps, opportunities for language learning have mushroomed. Says 16-year-old Tahira Goel: “You won’t believe how much I could learn in just two months. My go-to app is Duolingo. It’s the best tool for beginners to learn the basics of any language and to understand grammar rules and basic vocabulary.”

Four months ago, 40-year-old Bengaluru-based IT professional R Suresh undertook a course in Spanish at Udemy. He says he could learn the basics in a matter of hours. “There were no stuffy grammar drills, just plain speaking by the instructor who made the class easy to follow,” he says, adding that to learn a new language, you need two things: a well-structured course and a great instructor who can give you confidence as you go through the course.

EdTech platforms see language learning as one of the most popular courses and say that the Asian tigers are roaring. Korean, for instance, is among the top-10 languages at Coursera, which registered 625,000 enrolments for language learning courses in general during the past one year–from September 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021. Its ‘First Step Korean’, a course on Korean language offered by The Yonsei University via digital learning platform Coursera, has over 43,000 enrolments.

Another digital learning platform, Singhania Quest+, offers French and German, for which it has engaged top institutions such as Alliance Française and Goethe-Institut, respectively. Says the spokesperson, “Several scientific studies have proven that exposure to a foreign language at a young age improves the child’s cognitive abilities, especially problem-solving skills. We are also planning to start Spanish, Sanskrit and some regional Indian languages soon.”

Which languages to learn

You can access many apps and courses at digital learning platforms today. Depending on whether you want to learn the basics, or go for medium or advanced level, there are short- and long-term courses available in every foreign language. The price chart below gives a compilation of the top rated apps, as well as short-term and long-term courses for learning languages.

Traditionally, French and German have been the most popular foreign languages in India. Take the case of German, whose current number of learners in India stands over 200,000 now (Source: Statista). The German language proficiency exam is globally recognised, with six levels, from A1 to C2. Says Berthold Franke, Director Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, “The CEFR, or the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. German language proficiency opens up a plethora of career opportunities in Germany and other German speaking countries such as Switzerland and Austria. It is the critical link between individuals and industry in Germany, and can open many doors for those who want to enjoy higher standards of living and a secure working environment.”

Franke says people learn the language for study, research, travel and business in Germany. A large number of learners want to work for German multinationals in India and also for Indian companies that do business with Germany.

While it is commonly believed that the earlier one starts to learn a language, the better it is, there is no “right” age to start picking up a new tongue.

The only prerequisite is an open mind towards other cultures and a willingness to learn. For instance, the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan welcomes everyone over the age of 17 to take its regular courses. And it offers tailor-made courses for those under 17.

The school of language, literature and culture studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University has nine foreign language centres and also has a few chairs such as Greek-Chair, Pashto-Chair, Hebrew and Bahasa-Indonesia. The university offers B. A., M. A. and M. Phil-PhD degrees in different foreign languages.

Says Pradeep Kumar Das, Professor, Centre for Linguistics, JNU, New Delhi, “Getting admission in many of these foreign language courses may not be easy, as JNU receives several applications against one seat. The number of applications for different foreign languages keeps changing. Sometimes, the students prefer Chinese to Spanish, but the data from the admission branch shows that Korean has been more in demand than German during the past 2-3 years.”

Das says French was the most sought-after foreign language at JNU for years. But now students go for something on the basis of job opportunities in India and the number of fellowships available in that language. It is precisely due to this that the preference for Japanese and Korean has increased enormously–because of the job opportunities in India and the number of fellowships that are given by these countries.

Asian Tigers roaring

Often times, students choose Korean or Japanese over French or German because Korean and Japanese will invariably get them jobs faster. JNU’s Das says things weren’t like this some 20-30 years ago. “People would learn French, German and Russian because of the richness of their literature, culture and the whole colonial mindset about European supremacy. However, things have changed over time. Asian countries are doing great economically and there has been a shift in paradigm.”

Das adds that China, South Korea and Japan have invested a lot of money in India, and have also been offering a lot of scholarships. This has given rise to a trend in JNU, and students doing Chinese, Japanese and Korean land up getting jobs and scholarships at the early stages of their studies. “I, however, must emphasise that learning these foreign languages is not as easy as learning Spanish, Italian and Portuguese,” he says.

All said and done, whatever it is you are learning, the next time Pierre in Paris asks you: “Que voudriez-vous pour le petit-déjeuner?” or Ferdinand in Frankfurt goes: “Was möchtest du zum Frühstück?, you’ll have the answer at the tip of your tongue…literally. Oh, by the way, that’s “What would you like for breakfast?” in both languages.

Table: Indicative price list of language learning apps and classes


Online apps

Charges for Subscription (Rs)

Short Courses

Price (Rs)

Institutions for Long Term Courses



365, One-time



Alliance Francaise


365 App Store, Google Play: 438


Month Subscription: 695 per class




657 per month, 4,385 for 12 months


Free to start or 365 per month for full access

Instituto Hispania




24 months: 7,820; one month: 2,600

The Instituto Cervantes



1,022 per month; 5,847 per year


Mandarin Chinese Essentials: 10,882

Mandarin Chinese Level 1 (per level): Rs.10,882

Professional Certificate in Mandarin Communication: 54,412

Jawaharlal Nehru Academy of Languages


1,095 per month

7,309 for one Year

Rocket Languages

Rocket Chinese Levels 1, 2, & 3: 18,999

Rocket Chinese Level 1: 7,306

YMCA – Institute for Career Studies



945 per month



Language Pantheon




Online intensive course: 24,766

Grammar course: 12,383

German course Business German: 17,380

Max Mueller Bhavan/ Goethe Institute



1,020 per month

8,756 for lifetime


First Step Korean: 2,152, Per Level Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced: 2,152

JNU – Centre for Korean Studies


Free for 7 days

749 per month


Free to 14,595

SGTB Khalsa, Delhi University



1,091 per month


Learn the language and values of Japan: 16,236

Steps in Japanese for Beginners Part 1: Rs.3,579; Part 2 and Part 3: Rs 7,231

XSeries Program in Steps in Japanese for Beginners: 19,523

Nihongo Center

Kanji Study

Free for N5 level (beginners); 948.01 for access to levels N4-N1; Time commitment: 15+ minutes a day


Online Japanese Beginner Course (All 12 lessons): 5,760

Charges per N2, N3, N4, N5: 8,640Japanese in 14 Weeks with Scientific Memorization Method: 96,500

MOSAI (Mombusho Scholars Association of India)



Level 1: Rs 7,295

Level 3: Rs 7,878;Level 1-3: Rs 21,514

Arab Academy

Online Course Speaking Classes 4 per Month 7,224 per month

Online Course Access 1-on-1 Speaking Classes – 5 per Month Certification Quarterly 5,765 per month

JNU – Centre of Arabic and African Studies

Talk in Arabic

945 per month


Modern Standard Arabic-All about conversations: 6,400Arabic language-The comprehensive course: 8,640

St Stephen’s College, Delhi University

Credits: TechSci Research

A crash course in French from Alliance Francaise costs Rs 22,800 and blended learning Rs 17,000; a Spanish course at Instituto Hispania per level (A1, A2… C1) costs Rs 13,401; German course per level at Max Mueller costs Rs 15,000 approx

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