Phrasebooks hold out the promise of helping you get by in a foreign country and speaking the lanaguage to locals. A laudable aim, but in my experience the reality is that at best you’ll be desperately flicking through pages, mangling pronounciation while a sympathetic, but probably bored, local waits to either answer you in English anyway or shrug in total incomprehension.
Moreover, for the language student phrasebooks instill a false sense of confidence. ‘You only need this slim volume and you’ll master the language,’ they seem to say. Why else would they include a section on grammar, for example, if not to suggest they’re a ‘one-stop-shop’ for language learning. And so it is with the grammar section in the Lonely Planet’s out-of-print Bengali Phrasebook, which includes: nouns, verbs, participles, tenses, prepositions, among others. All vital to learning a language, and all pretty much impossible to learn without exercises, practice and a bit of hard work. And yet the book’s won me over.
Quite possibly that’s because it’s the only Bengali phrasebook I’ve seen. Or maybe because it was on sale in Waterstones for 99p and then the woman at the till inexplicably halved the price for me. Whatever the reason, it’s certainly a useful addition to my other resources, if not enough on its own.
Some of the transliteration seems askew (Bengali script and transliterated forms are given through-out), but the topic-based organisation chimes with my need for order and the English-Bengali, A-Z vocabulary section at the end is very useful.
Additionally, if you’re learning Bengali and don’t have many resources at hand, then the best thing about the book is that it’s available online via Google Books. Apparently Google have only made a ‘limited preview’ available, but comparing it to my print copy most of it looks to be there. So, if you don’t have easy access to a proper text book, then, despite my reservations about phrasebooks, it’s a good place to start.
I’m a little wary of Google’s push into digitising publishers’ wares, not least because it’s an issue in my day job, but I believe Lonely Planet’s Bengali Phrasebook is currently out-of-print, having been replaced with a combined Hindi-Urdu-Bengali phrasebook, so it almost looks like a public service for them to make such books more widely available.