Today I am a very happy man, because I have finally, at last, about-bloody-time completed the first section of my ‘teach yourself Bangla’ book. ‘Torture-yourself with Bangla’ would have been a more accurate name, because I’ve now, after nearly three months (with a month off in between) managed to learn the first main fifty letters in the Bangla script.
In some ways I’ve enjoyed this task, because I think learning a new language, any language, is fun, and learning to write again makes me feel like I’m four years old. But it’s bloody difficult. Hercules might have done all sorts of crazy hardcore physical labours, but I’d like to have seen him try and master an alphabet that looks like it had been first drafted on a moving train by a man with parkinsons.
Although the Latin alphabet is a bit dull to look at, it’s easy. Pronunciation, especially in the English language is a minefield, but you just learn it over time, and other languages such as German are mostly phonetic, so even if you don’t understand what you’re saying you can still roughly say it correctly. And apart from a few characters, ‘E’ and ‘F’, ‘M’ and ‘W’ for example, every character is fairly distinct, unless you’re a moron. And the lower case letters are mostly just smaller versions of the larger case.
The Bangla alphabet, which has evolved from Sanskrit, has fifty main letters. Each letter signifies a slightly different sound, but obviously to my untrained ear many of them sound the same, so it’s frustrating. In addition, depending on where you put the vowel, (i.e. at the beginning of the word or after another vowel, or in between consonants) it can be drawn in two different ways.
Then certain groups of consonants, ‘conjuncts’ have their own symbol, so rather than writing out s-k you do it with a different crazy squiggle. There are about 40 conjuncts, and because they essentially take two or three characters and squash them in to one, they especially resemble something Salvador Dali might have drawn on an acid trip.
To make it even harder to read, even if you know all the symbols, vowels after a consonant are written before the consonant, so ‘bed’ would be written ‘ebd’ for example. In long words this just gets more confusing.
So for the last three months, on average four mornings a week and sometimes after work as well, I’ve been sitting with my face inches away from the page, moving my finger below each syllable and making strange noises. Nearly all of the words are completely new to me, so I’ve got a big spreadsheet that I’m trying to enter everything in to and revise from, but after more than 90minutes of Bangla practice my head is literally throbbing, so it’s a painstaking process. But with no other native English speakers here, I literally have to learn Bangla, or just talk to myself for the rest of the year. And I’m boring.
Everyone wants to try and speak English to me here and there are no qualified Bangla teachers outside of Dhaka, so I don’t get much chance to practice except with Kobir. But now I’ve done part one, I move on to ‘conversations’, so with a bit of luck and lots more bloody practice I’ll be speaking a bit more confidently in a couple of months time.