From far and wide for love of Bangla
Many foreigners come to Bangladesh to see the lush green country, historic places and to learn about the rich folklore and traditions. Some come just for work.
But for Romanian youth Octavian Retegan, the reason was completely different. The 32-year-old came here with a student visa only to learn Bangla. He left his country for Bangladesh out of his love and affection for this language.
“I have been learning Bangla for the last one and a half years. The language has become a part of my life. I am so fascinated with this language that I read translated Bangla Bible during my regular prayers,” Retegan told The Daily Star.
He is learning the language at a private organisation named “Learn Bangla”. Now at the advanced level of his course, Retegan can read Bangla poetry and literature and can sing Bangla songs.
“I was surprised when I came to know about the history and struggle for the language which is very rare in the world. I think the nation can be proud of its historical events,” he said.
Like Retegan, around 500 foreign students have learned Bangla at this institution in the last seven years. It has offered the language course to 500 other foreigners who work in diplomatic missions or international organisations in Dhaka.
Launched on April 14, 2010, at the capital's Banani with only an American woman working in Dhaka, Learn Bangla now has 45 foreign learners, including 35 students.
Registered under the commerce ministry, the organisation runs foundation courses for non-native and non-resident people to help them achieve proficiency in using Bangla.
The courses it offers are of three levels -- basic, mid and advanced. The duration of the basic level is four months, the mid-level six months and the advanced is eight months, said Dil Ara Leena, director of the institution. Every level is interlinked with different events such as cultural and religious festivals.
The institution holds two-hour classes five days a week. It provides extra classes if anyone wants, she said. Besides, it also offers special and short courses.
Learn Bangla not only enriches its learners through teaching Bangla language, it also introduces them with the Bangalee culture, traditions and literature. People mainly from the USA, the UK, China and Canada come to this institution to learn Bangla.
Apart from students, officials of different foreign NGOs who have a plan to work for a long time in Bangladesh, and those working at high commissions and diplomatic missions in Dhaka are mainly the students of Learn Bangla, officials said.
During a recent visit to the institution, these correspondents saw foreigners rehearsing the historic song “Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February, Ami Ki Bhulite Pari”. Some of them also sang it in their own languages.
They said they found it hard to learn Bangla at the initial stage.
“When we came to Bangladesh two years ago, we couldn't talk to people easily. Now that we are taking the course, we are able to communicate smoothly with people,” said Shelbe Rhea Inskeep, who is from the USA.
She came here with her husband, and recently they became parents.
“We are now thinking of teaching our baby Bangla and we have already started communicating with our baby in Bangla. We even advised our house help to speak to our baby in Bangla,” said Shelbe's husband Connor Alan Inskeep, who is also a student of Learn Bangla.
The couple said they would stay in Bangladesh for a long time to work for the underprivileged people.
“This learning will help us a lot. Sometimes it is difficult to have a smooth communication with people taking the help of an interpreter,” Connor said.
Like them, Chinese citizens Sun Hailong and his wife Guo Huiting also want to stay here for a long time.
“We love Bangla and want to stay in this country,” said Sun, who has been living in Dhaka for the last few months with his wife.
About the method of teaching, Mary Juliet Penheiro, founder and managing director of Learn Bangla, said, “When we teach a student, we try to give lessons through the norms and behaviour practised in Bangla.”
She said they use English as the medium to teach Bangla in most of the cases. But for those who do not have a good command over English, they use body language and Bangla phonetics.
Dil Ara Leena said after two to three classes they divide the students into different groups according to their performance. On completion of the full course, the organisation gives the learners certificates.
Lelin Penheiro, chairman of the organisation, said, “We can brand Bangladesh through Bangla language and culture. There is already a good reputation of Bangla as a language worldwide after the Unesco declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day.”