Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Learning Bangla

FYI : bangla = bengali language, bengali = person of Bengal descent

This is probably one of the hardest blog posts to write, as I'm not entirely sure what angle to write from!!! Learning a new language above the age of 25 (which I am!!) is quite difficult, and that too a Indic language.

I took a 1 year course, 6 months of Junior level, and 6 months of Senior level, at Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark. The classes were held 2 days a week for 1 1/2 hours each. There were about 10-12 people in my Junior class, which consisted of about 5-6 bideshi (meaning foreigner in bangla), from Germany, US, and Canada, and 4 Indians from all over India. Whereas in the Senior class there was only 3 of us, and we were all American (and we knew each other from the previous year).

In the beginning we started by learning to write and read the bangla script. That was an adventure!! DH made me practice over and over while he patiently corrected my mistakes until my script was legible and looked somewhat like...bangla. Also, we learned about conjugating verbs, and the normal grammar. For example, we have a friend who is a probashi bengali (meaning non-resident / migrant bengali) who can speak bangla but he can't read it. We had been waiting for a bus to take us near the airport and some of the buses have the destinations written only in bangla. We were waiting, and he was like come on! The bus is coming. I looked at him and said, "What are you smoking? That bus goes from Tollygunge Metro to Ultadanga. Not to the airport." DH looked at me and started busted up laughing, and then every time a bus comes that is only written in bangla, I will tell him where it goes. =] Because I'm a mean bou-di!

Now, I am always anxious to show off my awesome bangla reading scripts, well...except the conjoining of some letters leaves me confused!! I must admit, I still have problems with the conjugations, but like I keep telling DH and myself that I've only been learning bangla for a year, and I wasn't even fluent in English at age 1!!!

I'm still learning slowly, but I'm to the point where I can understand more than I can speak. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I can get my point across.

I've had many experiences of shocking and surprising many people with my bangla skills. Once when I was taking a bus home, I was waiting to get down, and the bus driver asked me, "ekhane namben?" (will you get down here?) and to which I replied, "Na, aami opere nambo" (I will get down above, meaning above the circle.) Then the usual went on to be asked, that I knew bangla, and how I learned it, and why I'm here, and how long I've been here. I usually give my standard answers. I usually just say that I learned bangla at Ramakrishna Mission at Golpark, and I'm here because my husband is bengali, and I've been here for about a year and half. It's always a conversation starter when I speak to them in bangla.

Also, one day we had a friend from out of town come to Kolkata and DH and I had decided to pick him up from the airport and then go out for dinner. Usually we are able to get a taxi from the stand in front of our house. Well, this time there wasn't any to be had, so I took a bicycle rickshaw to the crossing. I asked the taxi, "airport jabe?" (will you go to the airport?) naturally he said yes. I got in the backseat and said, "dada, aamar saami pick-up korte hobe. O aamar jonno Silver Spring Club-e dariye achhe, tarpor airport jabo" (meaning Dada, we have to pick up my husband. He is waiting for me at the Silver Springs Club, then I will go to the airport). He said, ok, and off we went. We went off to the area, and DH told us to go through the bus lane, and so we started that way, and the cop told the driver, "jete parben na" (you can't go) and the driver told him that a person was waiting for us. The cop asked, "ke?" (who?) and from the back seat I said, "aamar saami" (my husband) and after seeing me speak bangla the cop, said "jan jan" (go, go). So after successfully picking up DH off we went to the airport!

We also learned how to say certain phrases and some idioms. My favorite being "bhul bhal bhaje kotha bolo na" which roughly translates to "stop talking utter crap!!" 

This school was good for the amount of money we paid, I think we paid less than Rs 150 (less than $5) a month. I will be attending it again to learn hindi.


  1. Wow! I am impressed! It has been more than a decade since I settled in the States and my Bangla, how should I say it, "rusty" hoi choleche. No, I am not Bengali but I grew up there. Like your probashi Bangali friend, I too can't read the script. So, I am doubly impressed that you cracked that one!

    Aapnaar enthusiasm dekhe khoob bhalo legeche!

  2. @KarmicPachyderm

    Dhonyobaad!! Aamar bangla aste aste cholchhe!! :-)

    BTW, DH is wondering why a Karmic Elephant? =]

  3. Learning a new language is definitely not an easy task. I've been trying to learn Russian myself and progress has been slow.

    As for Hindi, check out livemocha.com (much of it is free) I found that website very helpful for my language learning goals.

    As for Karmic Elephant, have you heard of "my karma ran over your dogma"? Well, if you are an elephant, it's a tad easier to stomp out :) Hey, I never said elephants were not silly! :)

  4. @cnc Downright impressive! The truth about us is that we are quite tolerant (race, religion, culture, color don’t matter to us) provided you speak Bengali. A mannerism which one finds similar to native French.

    Shining examples of this affection are etched in history. When Pakistan tried imposing Urdu the people of Bangladesh sacrificed lives protecting bangla although both are south-asian muslims.

    Hope you hone bengali skills to a level that also gives you access to appreciate some of our prized literature. Subeccha neben.

  5. @Andy,

    Dhonyobaad!! Like I've said before, I'm getting there. I am improving slowly, and my vocabulary is slowly growing! :-) I am also planning on learning Hindi sometime next year.

    I'm looking forward to being able to understand the hindi films I accompany DH to watch in theatres! LOL instead of having to sit and attempt to figure out what is going on, and then download them later and watch with english subtitles. (like I did with 3 Idiots...that speak was hilarious!!)

  6. Hello CNC,
    Being an expat Bengali myself I started looking how others think about my native place and what are their feelings about it. I am following the whiteindianhousewife blog for a while and stumbled upon yours via that. It's a great pleasure to see your desire to learn Indian languages. Few years back I saw a TV Interview of the former American Consul General of Calcutta Mr. Henry V Jardine and when he started speaking in Bengali I was quite surprised since most foreigners usually learn Hindi. So, I think since Bengali is a regional language in India and spoken by less than 300 million people (including Bangladesh and other Indian states) it is less popular than Hindi. That's may be one of the reason why native Bengali surprised to see a foreigner speaking Bengali. I also think it is a good signal that you are better at reading than speaking. You’ll be encouraged to read more Bengali which will further strengthen your overall desire to learn the language and by that time speaking will be improved automatically.

    Pritam. (Brisbane, Australia)

  7. @Pritam,

    I admit, part of the reason I've learned (and still am...) bangla is to be able to speak to my mother-in-law as she isn't fluent in english. She can speak it, but...sometimes communication is hard! :-)

    But I'm loving it, and I find that I am constantly slipping into bangla rather than english with my husband and family! =]

  8. Wow! Reading this post was so fun and I really identify with it. Learning an Indian language can certainly open up doors that we thought were closed just because we look gori. ;-) That school is super inexpensive! I'm impressed. And it seems that your skills are coming along nicely. Keep it up!

  9. Wow! To start understanding and speaking a new language when you're an adult is tough enough; to read and write is almost superhuman. Kudos to you!

    A little background: I'm a Bangali guy, living in Minnesota, married to an American. We have started going to a Bangla class for 2 months now. Our main objective is that my wife understands spoken Bangla and then talk some. Reading and writing is completely not in the radar.

  10. what Andy said above. bangla bolte paarle saat khun maap. BTW, it's pretty impressive that you could speak idiomatically after only 2 years learning as an adult.

  11. Namushkar! Aami bangla pori. Aamar shaami bangali kintu o bangla bole-na (bangla buste patche).

    I'm learning as some relatives do not speak English and we visit from England every Summer. Do you go to the KIWC?


  12. @Mintabarlow

    I think you meant to bangla bujhte parche, which means he can understand bangla. :-)

    KIWC? I don't think so. I went to Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture by my house. :-)

  13. Hi there. Yes, that's what I meant, he can understand but not speak. Not re learning Bangla but I was referring to the KIWC - Kolkata International Women's Club, meets monthly at the Taj Hotel. For foreign women who have residency in Kolkata though there were some Indian women resident in India there too when I went!
    We're only around in the Summer. My MIL kept suggesting the RMIC but the courses look longer than 4 weeks and also my husband is not keen as it is Hindu (I've explained that it is an educational institution but he has the wrong impression of what it is) (he converted to Christianity many years ago).

  14. @Mintabarlow

    Nope, I haven't heard of it. I've not joined any Foreign women's groups :-)

    RMIC...I am not sure I would recommend it. The teacher who teaches bangla is old, and his teaching style outdated. But they are cheap, and it is a stepping stone to learning more...

  15. Thanks for the advice! I will email you the email for KIWC in case you're interested. They seem nice, some have been in Kolkata for 20 years others stay only months or a couple of years. Each meeting has talks and then lunch. There was a really interesting talk I went to last year by someone from the Samarpan Foundation. I'm not allowed to join as not resident :( but I am allowed to go as a guest.

  16. Fantastic blog for a great language! keep it up. I too am a non bengali but speak fluent Bengali and of course cannot write though I manage to read some.I like the language where I can really play with the words, the sound, the accent and the intonation wowing all my real bengali friends over my 'dakhal' on the language and well the language just bridges the gap instantly!

  17. @Paulda

    Thanks, I'm working on it...I'm not fluent yet, but neither can I hardly expect myself to be fluent after 2 1/2 years, I mean look how long it takes a child to be completely fluent in their own mother tongue. Adults have harder times learning! :-)

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