The lack of Bengali materials

There is a paucity of Bengali resources for the learner. It’s stated in William Radice’s book and is obvious to anyone looking for materials to aid their study.

It’s also something I’m reminded of every time I browse bookshop language sections. Where, faced with ranks of French Conversation, Colloquial Arabic and Extended German Verbs, it’s hard not to start thinking you’re learning an underground language followed only by a handful of adherents, rather than the sixth most widely-spoken language on the planet. The exception to the rule is Waterstones’ flagship Piccadilly branch. It’s a magnificent literary department store and on my visit a couple of months ago it, amazingly, had three books about learning Bengali. Sadly the two non-Radice volumes were expensive and didn’t look particularly inspiring. But at least they were there.

I’d hazard a guess it’s probably the second or third most important Indian language, in terms of number of speakers and cultural importance, but such is Bengali’s historically development and socio-economic place in India, not to mention its comparative marginalisation by the juggernaut that is modern Hindi cinema, that you’d never know. Take the example of the Teach Yourself Books, such as Radice’s, published by Hodder & Staughton. I’m a big fan of their Teach Yourself series, have the Bengali, Hindi and creative writing books and don’t mean to knock them, just harp on a bit more.

They publish Teach Yourself Bengali, which is great. But compare it with this, this, this and this. (See what I mean?)

So, in the face of this scarcity of resources what can you do? Assuming you’re looking to augment a core textbook, Radice’s or another, then you have to start making the best of what is available. For me this means self-testing while walking, children’s books in English and dual-language books from the library.

Self-testing? Well, for example, when teaching myself Bengali words for colours I’d try identifying the colours of parked cars as I walked to and from the train station; similarly I used to try counting my steps to firmly imprint numbers from one to ten in my mind and then build up speed saying them. I have yet to get round to properly learning numbers over thirty, so should probably revisit this approach.

Making lists of related words, such as those that occasionally make up posts here, is another thing to do. This comes from learning French, German and Italian at school and college, where the teaching often revolved around themed vocabulary. The method is so imprinted in my mind that for a couple of years I tried making a kind of basic Bengali primer in an A6 notebook, until I realised that the collection and arranging of words had taken the place of properly learning them. Perhaps I’ll upload it in sections later on.

An alternative to this would be using the ‘my first word’ sort of books intended for babies and very young children. Though in our house this often leads to complaints from my son that I’m using his books and, particularly if I’m using them with him, that they’re not Bengali books. Nevertheless, there are some good books for this out there. I particularly like I Spy Numbers In Art, which is great for teaching my son numbers and words, and have long had my eye on an ‘opposites’ book.

If you’re looking for these in your local library then you should also see if they have any foreign language children’s books. I don’t know how common this is outside the UK, or even my part of it, but my local library and that in the town I used to work in both had pretty decent collections of Bengali dual-language books, showing the text in English and underneath in Bengali script.

The ability levels of these range from the basic – and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve borrowed Elmer-er Aek Dinand one of the Bump books Bump-er chata ache, Birdie gate-er diye gaeche if I remember rightly) – to books quite beyond my reading ability for the time being.

Beyond that there’re podcasts, which are a huge help to learning how a language sounds when it is spoken properly and on which I’ve blogged already, and a wide variety of websites, on which a post is in the pipeline.

However, the coda to this has to be that ultimately there’s only so many books, films, websites, tactics etc you need to help you learn a language before their collection becomes prevarication and an aim in itself. Perhaps I’ll remember that sometime.

9 responses to “The lack of Bengali materials

  1. Hi, I’m finding lots of dual language children’s books and the level varies widely. I will try to post a reply with the 20 or so I’ve read and mark them level 1, 2 or 3. As I order them on the library website on line, I usually can’t tell what level they are until I pick them up and the titles can be deceptive! e.g. I found Floppy’s Friends difficult but Elmer’s Friends easy!!!

  2. As I commented, most of the dual language books are deceptive, ending up seeming much harder than the titles would suggest. The following I would term Level 1, which is fairly simple sometimes with words and pictures and if there is text it tends to be repeated so you build up familiarity with common phrases.

    1) Author Menon, Radhika
    Title Line and Circle. Bengali & English
    Publisher/Date Mantra Pub, 2003

    2)Title Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes…Bengali and English
    Publisher/Date Mantra Pub, 2003
    Junior Shelf Mark BAB

    3) Author McKee, David
    Title Elmer’s Day. Bengali and English
    Publisher/Date Milet, 2002

    4) Author McKee, David
    Title Elmer’s Friends. Bengali and English
    Publisher/Date Milet Ltd, 2002

    5) Author Rao, Sandhya
    Title My mother’s sari: Bengali & English
    Publisher/Date Tulika, 2008

    6) Author Robert, Na’Ima Bint
    Title Swirling Hijaab: Bengali & English
    Publisher/Date Mantra Pub, 2002

    7) Author Browne, Eileen
    Title Handa’s Hen. Bengali and English
    Publisher/Date Mantra Pub, 2004

    8) Author Browne, Eileen
    Title Handa’s Surprise. English and Bengali
    Publisher/Date Mantra, 2000

    I also recommend getting a native speaker to tape them for you if you can – I recorded on my mobile and transferred to the computer. This is to help with correct pronunciation.

    • Thanks for taking the time to make that list. I’ve only read Elmer’s Day (or ‘elmer-er aekdin’), but agree with you about the difficulty of some of the books – which must be more of an issue if your local library doesn’t stock dual-language books and you have to order them in, sight unseen.

  3. Mantra Lingua has produced a TalkingPen or RecorderPen which for £45 lets you then download free the audio for their dual language books which is then activated by touching the page on the book. Don’t quite understand the technology, think you download via your computer onto the RecorderPen so it’s a bit like an IPod.

    Here’s a demonstration of the Bengali reading of the Pied Piper!

  4. The two websites for mantralingua’s TalkingPen the second of which includes a demonstration of how to use the pen are:

  5. No problem. If you get a chance to post up to five titles Elmer level not listed above that would be great. I’ve written to the Children’s Librarian for West Sussex requesting he purchase a Talking Pen for the larger libraries and load on the Mantra Lingua books in the various languages but I’m not holding out much hope!

  6. Pingback: The other Teach Yourself Bengali | A Tangle Of Wires

  7. Pingback: Learning Bengali (bangla) on Facebook | A Tangle Of Wires

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