Friday, September 22, 2006

The Bangla Classes

18 July 2006
the bangla classes

A few folks have written and asked me about the Bangla (what Bengali language is called) classes and how they were going. I wanted to give a few words on the heart of why I came to Bangladesh for this two-month summer study program. The program is sponsored by three different organizations, all of which are interested in giving an opportunity to students who want to study Bangla. The students in the group that makes up this first-year program, are from varied disciplines. Out of fifteen students four are in grad school, and the rest are undergrad students.

The first goal of this program, in its simpliest words, is to complete one full year of grad level Bangla in just eight weeks. The program was designed to cover three to four

our teachers: farah, nazneen, and farjana

weeks of curriculium within a few days. The program is very true to that. Class starts are 9am. We have a one-hour lunch break at 1pm, and again class from 2-4pm. So that's 6-7 hours of class every day.

The plan was to use a new teaching material being developed by one of the academic advisors of this summer study program. At the last minute, it was decided not to use this new text which is written in Bangla script and Englsh, but rather use a text that was written in the 1950's, and is not in Bangla script but English transliteration.

The course began, and our teachers were doing their best to teach Bangla letters, and some conversation. They had a lot of resources at their hands but didn't know how to bring them all together and teach with them. I decided to make the most of it and speak what little I could and learn conversationally. In the meantime, most of the students are so new to Bangla that they were getting really frustrated in the classroom since many informations were being given to them, but without any introduction or explanation.

Mutiny was on the rise and by the end of week two there was some serious emotion flying around the room. There were tears, there was shouting, and there was loads of wanton complaining that just went nowhere. At the start of week three, it didn't look good. My boredom kicked in, and that is a dangerous thing for me. Once I get bored with a situation, it is very hard for me to get back in and be engaged. Carol, the academic advisor had arrived just in time to observe the drama in the classroom, and to see that in three weeks the students had learned hardly anything.

Carol had her work cut out for her. She needed to get the students back on track on the syllabus. Actually, it was a great suprise to us that there was a syllabus. We had never seen it! She needed to get the teachers to understand that they couldn't teach American students like how they teach Bengali students, and she had to earn the respect of our local teaching staff. There was some difficulty with the fact that our new text was written according to West Bengali Bangla as opposed to Bangladeshi Bangla. There are still some deep seeded animosities between sides within Bengali culture.

Luckily expertise prevailed, and week four was spent getting the class back on track. Yep, they started at the beginning of the syllabus and worked very hard to catch up. I have stepped back into class at week five, hoping for something interesting. The class now is more rigid and bookish, and I dont't think people will learn to speak very much this way. I have some outside conversation partners and have been watching Bangla tv and movies and trying to speak whenever I can. Even when people insist on speaking to me in English.

What I do know is that this course will be something very good in the second and third rounds in the following years, as they iron out the kinks. Bangla is such an amazing language that is creative, accomodating and adaptable to each moments needs. In that way it is funny we are learning a Bangla that was spoken 60 or so years ago. It is already outdated. Well, I suppose we should count our blessings. Most of the Western scholars of Bangla today learned a spoken Bangla that was from 1850!


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