Learning Bangla thus far has been good for me- I can see that I am reading faster, and starting to decipher stories and paragraphs from context, and learning to speak for fluently. I am often told sternly by my teacher that I have to speak Bangla, which is completely helpful. However, I am having a problem actually using the language outside of class sometimes.
I went to hear Mani Sankar Mukherji, the famed Bengali author at IUB last week with my teacher and a friend. It was set in the new campus of IUB and once there, Sankar as everyone calls him spoke in both English and Bangla, which was helpful to me. The professors who introduced Sankar also went back and forth between English and Bangla with comfort. However, when I spoke about this with my teacher she told me that it was a bit disappointing because this is Bangladesh, and it would have been great to hear him talk in Bangla, the language he speaks and writes with. This is true (even though the English helped me listen to him more comfortably). It also illustrates how much the English language has transcended into this society. For example, after the talk, I met some people from the audience and found myself awkwardly trying to speak Bangla because once an English term was spoken in the conversation, we were free to use that language. Everyone understood and used English, making the use of Bangla unnecessary. I also found myself not being able to speak Bangla as fluently as I have done in class- why is that? Is it because I know consciously that they can speak English? Or maybe because I know my Bangla is not in par with the native speakers?
The dichotomy between the two languages in Dhaka today, especially among the intellectual and/ or the elite class is fascinating. More than once I have heard, and saw the new generations preferring to speak English over Bangla in their everyday world, because it is “cooler” to do so. It also places them in a different, exclusive bracket in a society where class structure is everything. Even more interesting is how they will attempt to use an American accent to speak English, and speak Bangla with an accent too. And here I am, a Bangladeshi American trying to learn the very language my generation and beyond are trying to hide and break down.
More than once I am asked why I am learning Bangla. I still can’t think of a coherent answer. I do know that languages are important, and for me, being able to have the chance with my Fulbright to learn Bangla is an amazing opportunity- why would I not take it? It can only be useful and make my stay here even better if I can speak the language with more fluidity since my work will involve interacting with Bangladeshis at all levels. I want to be perceived as a Bangladeshi in Bangladesh since I am going to be living here for a year, even though I identify more with America. I think language can help that. But now that I see this tremendous push to know and use English, sometimes over Bangla, I really wonder…But, I am also still searching for a better answer for myself, and maybe I will have one soon.