Hello everyone and happy New Year! Before I start this post I want to apologize for the mini hiatus, I was extremely busy with finals! But I have some exciting things coming up this month for this blog. I’m going to be doing posts on Bengali, Nepali and Punjabi. Plus a review of the Genki series and the Teach Yourself Hindi. And some other surprise posts as well. So today I decided to start the New Year with a why you should learn….. post because it is new year and a great time to start learning a new language! So today our language is Bengali! Bengali is a language that I absolutely adore. It is a beautiful sweet language and in my opinion is extremely underrated. It is a bit harder than Hindi, but still nothing too incredibly difficult. Bengali is a language spoken in Bangladesh and India is a great language to learn. It is the seventh most spoken language in the world and is the second most spoken language in India. It is a very sweet language and is considered very sophisticated in India. So if you want a new language to study, you should really consider Bengali and here are the reasons why:
This is a Beautiful Bengali Song sung by Shreya Ghoshal.
Bengali is a major language and one of the least studied.
Most people have not even heard of Bengali much less study the language. And the sad thing is, Bengali is a MAJOR language. It has 300 million speakers, this is more than French, Japanese, Persian, Korean, Italian and German! Bengali is the language used in two major cities, Calcutta and Dhaka! It is the second most spoken language in India after Hindi. Plus there are significant amount of Bengali’s in the United Kingdom, United States, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Italy. Bengali is another language that is considered critical by the US government, so speakers are needed for it. Despite this however, not many people will study the language. There aren’t many universities that offer Bengali and hardly any books devoted to it. For example according to the Teach Yourself Bengali, there is ONLY one university teaching the language to an advanced level. And universities teaching Bengali outside of South Asia can be counted on the hand.Even on language forums and communities I have rarely met anyone interested in learning it. To be honest I have met more people interested in learning Punjabi or Tamil than Bengali. So if you decide to take on Bengali you will be doing language that most people will not even touch or will think is a dialect of Hindi. You will definitely stand out from the crowd if you decide to learn it! So do something different from the mold and study this beautiful language.
Bengali speakers will be overjoyed if you learn their language.
Yes I know this is true for most languages, most native speakers are extremely delighted when you learn their language. However Bengali’s have been some of the most excited when I tell them. Bengali’s have immense pride for their language. It is because of Bengali’s that we have “International Mother Tongue Day. (আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস in Bengali). The day is celebrated because when Bangladesh was considered East Pakistan, Urdu was forced upon Bengali speakers. So Bengali speakers will be extremely happy that you have decided to learn their language. A couple years ago I was buying a coffee from a coffee shop, the man behind the counter was a Bengali. I asked him at first if he spoke Hindi and he said no that he speaks Bengali. So immediately said in my poor Bengali that I was learning Bengali and I thought Bengali was beautiful. He was so amazed he talked to me for at least 20 minutes and told me he wanted to see the books I was using for it. He even gave me a second cup of coffee for free and wrote my name in Bengali on the cup! It was one of the coolest language experiences I have ever had. Every time I went back to that coffee shop, he always greeted me in Bengali and wanted to help me with it. This has been the responses of many Bengali speakers I have met. They are extremely helpful when you show an interest in the language and love when you try to speak it (no matter how bad you sound!).
Bengali literature is AMAZING.
Again, many languages have amazing literature but Bengali literature is one of the richest in South Asia and there are so many publications in Bengali. Reading Bengali translated is not the same. The earliest extant work in Bengali is called the Charyapada which is a collection of mystical poems and songs relating to Buddhism. This dates back to the 10th and 11th century. Medieval Bengali literature mostly consists of poetry, Hindu religious scriptures, Islamic epics and translations from Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. However novels were introduced in Bengali in the mid nineteenth century. Rabindranath Tagore is the most famous figure of Bengali literature. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. However Bengali features some amazing novels including Devdas, Parineeta, Ashani Sanket, Chokher Bali, Aranyak and Dahan. Many Bengali novels have been translated across India and across the world.
Bengali films are the most realistic and the most “art-house” in India.
Bengali films are respected throughout India and noted for their realism and how “art-house” they are. Maybe there aren’t many modern films like this but the Bengali film industry has a long history. Satyajit Ray won an horary Oscar for his films, most of which are in Bengali. His famous films include Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar, Sonar Kella, Ashani Sanket and Devi. His films are brilliant and have been highlighted at major film festivals including Cannes. During the golden age of Bengali cinema (the 1950s-1970s) West Bengal was the second largest producer of films in India after the Hindi film industry. Today there are many famous Bollywood actors and actresses have hailed from West Bengal including Rani Mukerjee, Konkona Sen Sharma, Mithun, Jaya Badhuri, and many directors and music composers. Ravi Shankar, one of India’s most famous composers came was Bengali. He provided the scores to many of Satyajit Ray’s films. West Bengal traditionally encourages the arts and has produced many beautiful artists weather in film, music or literature. The Bengali people love the arts.
Bengali has no gender.
Unlike most other Indo-Aryan languages, Bengali has no gender. You don’t need to learn if a noun is masculine or feminine because this doesn’t exist in Bengali. Also in many basic sentences you don’t need a verb “to be” for it to be a complete sentence. For example:
In English we say, “My name is Meera.”
In Hindi we would need to say, “Mera naam Meera hai.” (मेरा नाम मीरा है)
In Bengali we say, “amar naam meera” (আমার নাম মীরা)
Bengali is part of the Indo-European branch so it is a distant cousin to English, therefore it isn’t so hard to learn for English speakers. If you already speak Hindi or another Indo-Aryan Indian language you will have an easy time with Bengali. The hardest part about Bengali is that it is not a phonetic language and there are two ways to pronounce the inherent vowel. However many languages that are considered easy are not phonetic. Think of English and French they are not phonetic languages either. The Bengali script is also used to write Assamese!
Bengali is fun!
Bengali is just fun to learn. It is a different language that not many people learn. It has a rich and diverse culture and has many speakers that you can practice with. There is amazing literature, movies, cuisine and music. It is a fantastic language to learn.
So where to begin? Unfortunately Bengali does not have many books for learners, however the ones that exist are quite good. I highly recommend:
Colloquial Bengali– A fantastic book that focuses on speaking Bengali.
The beautiful Colloquial Bengali Cover!
Teach Yourself Bengali– This book is a bit harder, but still excellent.
There are many radios and TV programs in Bengali in India and Bangladesh but also in the UK and the United States. BBC offers news programs in Bengali:
BBC Asian Network offers two hour program in Bengali on Sunday Nights, the show is wonderful:
You can re listen to her shows after they air.
You can also listen to Washington Bangla Radio:
This is a radio is headquartered in Maryland and serves the Washington DC metropolitan area.
TV in Bengali: