Convenient, portable and often bite-sized, yet it had never occurred to me that podcasts might be useful for learning Bengali. Then, after talking to a more linguistically astute colleague last year, the scales fell from my eyes.
As with any search for Bengali resources, there’s not exactly an abundance of material, but even a cursory search of the iTunes store, for example, yields a handful of free mp3 podcasts.
The two I try to listen to once a week or so are the NHK World news and the Santiniketan podcast episodes.
Bengali news podcast
NHK World is the international arm of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation NHK. It provides news in 18 languages – including of course Bengali, but also Urdu and Hindi (which might be useful if the Teach Yourself Hindi book on my shelf ever gets opened).
There are usually 5-6 episodes a week and at 15 minutes long, picking one provides a nice chuck of listening without being too much for me. The delivery reminds me a bit of the BBC (who also provide their service in a – smaller – number of languages), given that it seems a very correct and proper use of language with few English words used.
The downside, and the reason why I only listen to it once a week, is that it is clearly geared for people fluent in the language (as you would expect) and so the newsreaders speak very quickly. Also, for what it’s worth, the language is apparently Bangladeshi-accented – so east rather than west Bengali – but if my biggest problem with Bengali was whether I had an East or a West Bengal accent then I’d be laughing.
In nearly a year of listening to this podcast I’ve got past the stage of not being able to even register what the words are, though this is not the same as being able to understand the words, and I can now differentiate between them, pick out familiar words here and there and work on understanding the gist of the stories, if not what is actually said.
The NHK Bengali site also renders Bengali script legible through the use of gifs, which is useful if you don’t have the right unicode fonts installed on your computer. My reading skills are not so great, but it looks like there’s a fair bit there. All in all this was a great find.
Bengali discussion and music podcast
The Shantiniketan podcasts are put together by NRI and Canadian resident Santanu Mitra, who was born in Santiniketan and attended the university. He usually produces six or seven hour-long episodes throughout the month. They feature a mixture of Bengali songs, conversations between Santanu and other Shantiniketan alumni, book or poetry readings and more general musings and Santanu does an excellent job of editing them all together.
As with the NHK podcasts, my language skills can’t quite keep up with the content, but these seem easier to follow than NHK’s news bulletins and are ideal for dipping into.
Initially I was put off tackling these because of the length of the Shantiniketan podcasts, but more fool me. They are delightful, enlightening, useful and entertaining. Listening to Bengali folk songs as I walk to the station through the early morning Surrey countryside is a rare treat. For the student of Bengali the telephone calls with Santiniketan alumni and his own delivery are very useful as examples of ‘real world’ Bengali, particularly compared to the more formal, rapid delivery of the NHK newsreaders.
Other Bengali podcasts
Finally mention must be made of a recent addition to the ranks of Bengali podcasts: Bangla Golpo – Bengali Stories. I haven’t listened to much of these, held back by ability, but what a great idea. There’s one or two a month and they run from about 10 to 30 minutes.
Other Bengali podcasts available include:
Seven shows, February 2006 to March 2008
Two episodes avaiable on iTunes
One (March 2009) episode available on iTunes of this Islamic-focused podcast