This youngster from Kochi who teaches Hebrew wishes to open his own language learning academy. Read to find more

In conversation with Thapan Santhosh, a sprightly young adult who has a particular fascination with languages
Thapan Santhosh is an avid language learner and teacher
Thapan Santhosh is an avid language learner and teacher

It is not always that you come across a person who knows 12 languages. But then again, Thapan Santhosh is not your everyday person either. Why, you wonder? Thapan has been teaching Hebrew to those who desire to go to Israel. But get this, he hasn't learnt Hebrew formally but still speaks it fluently. The 23-year old computer applications graduate says that he was drawn to languages due to his love for world history. He talks about his experience of learning Hebrew on his own, the lessons that he takes for aspiring caretakers and his long-term plans. Excerpts:

1. How did you learn Hebrew in the first place?

I come from a Judaic family, so Hebrew has always been close to me. I have been exposed to Hebrew liturgically. I then started to learn it academically by myself in 2014. It actually began from an unlikely source when my father first brought a sheet containing the Cyrillic alphabet. So I tried my hand at Russian first. I was very intrigued and enamoured by it. But then I realised that I should be learning the language of my people, Hebrew. 

2. How easy or hard is it to learn a language by yourself? What methods did you use?

I wanted to learn Hebrew by myself. The methods that I used were quite simple. I fell back on the university of the poor man — the internet — and I started talking to some of the rabbis in Mumbai and some of my friends in Israel. Some of them know English as well so I learnt it using that medium. I used to make tons of mistakes but my friends would patiently sit with me and correct them all. 

3. Tell us about your experience teaching Hebrew.

I think that came about when I first returned from London in 2019 where I was involved with the technical intelligence department of the British Army. I always wanted to teach Hebrew to people but never thought that I would begin it as a formal class or something like it. What happened was that my uncle was approached by a person asking him to teach Hebrew. My uncle could not find the time to do it so he referred the person to me. I was not doing anything of significance at that time so I readily took it up. I started with about six students, most of them wanting to go to Israel as caretakers. As of now the classes are all virtual and I have around 35 students. It takes them about 2-3 months to attain basic fluency.

4. What are people's experiences of learning a new language?

Most of the nurses who graduate look for employment in any of the English-speaking countries. The thought of Israel never comes to them. Secondly, there is a negative public image of Israel being a war-torn country. People think that it is not very safe to live in Israel. Nowadays, though, there are more people heading for Israel. One factor is that the paperwork required for immigration is minimal compared to many English-speaking countries. There is an interview where you need to give verbal answers in Hebrew and that is it. Since the mid-90s, there has been an increased demand for Indian caretakers, nurses and paramedics. 

5. What has been your experience as a learned person of Hebrew? How have you practically used it?

The full potential of my Hebrew is never realised while talking to people in India. There are very few Indian Jewish people who know the language. The only people I can talk to in Hebrew are those from Israel and America. Whenever they come to visit our synagogue in Kochi, I talk to them in modern Hebrew. I get ecstatic when I meet them. It is like a camel who finds an oasis after many days in the desert. Even my phone's default language is Hebrew. My friends hate how much I love the language because they constantly advise me that in case of emergency, no one would be able to make a call from my phone because quite simply, they won't understand a thing written on the screen! (laughs)

6. What are your plans for the future?

I speak 12 languages with varying proficiency. Hebrew is just one side of the cube. My dream is to start a language learning centre where I can teach people different languages and make a career out of it. It is a service I can provide to people and I am good at it. This is my long-term plan.

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