First day of class! I woke up and Skyped with my love love: great way to start the day (girl, I can't get over how pretty your hair looks on Skype!!) I took a rickshaw to school, it takes about 5 minutes. My language school is called HEED, the language centre is a small part of a larger NGO that works towards development. It is the top two floors of a five story building. There is a guard that unlocks the door for the students – quite secluded.
I head upstairs and meet a man from Chicago who has been studying here for a few months. One girl from Japan arrives, with her friend from Turkey. Two students from Myammar arrive, then a Japanese boy arrives. The principal, Shupti (or Susan) announces where each class will be held. I am in the Phonetic A class with Baris from Turkey and Horoto from Japan (he is actually half Bengali, half Japanese but grew up in Japan and doesn’t know much Bangla. Susan said there are normally more students but because it’s the summer, everyone is off on vacation traveling. There is a wall of the passport photos of students from the past year. I am the latest from America. Most students seem to be from Australia or America, a lot from Korea and Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark, etc.) About 40 countries altogether.
the HEED Language Centre building
The three of us head upstairs to this back room with AC (praise Allah!). Our teacher is Pulak Chatterji (pronounced ‘pu-lock’). First, as Pulak hands out our textbooks, he gives us some tips on Bangla culture. Just as soon as I grabbed my book, he tells us that it is impolite to grab things with your left hand. Guess which hand I grabbed my book with? Then he says it’s impolite to cross one leg over the other. Baris and I look down at our legs, and slowly uncross them, laughing at ourselves. “Because you are foreigners, Bangladeshis will understand the mistake but it is still impolite,” says Pulak. This might be the most difficult action of living here: I’m not sure I know how to sit without crossing my legs!
Our first month is dedicated solely to phonetics and learning structure. For the first half, we practiced the sounds. For phonetics, we are 8 of the 11 vowels and 28 of the 39 consonant sounds. I remember most of the vowels from Kolkata but the consonants are a whole other ball game.There are essentially five sounds based on where your tongue goes: velar (tongue at back of throat), palatal (flat tongue on roof), retroflex (tip of tongue on roof), dental (tongue to teeth), labial (no tongue, all lips).
So there we were, three foreigners, shouting these new sounds, practicing the shapes of our mouth and placement of tongue. The best way to learn a language is to never get embarrassed. Never turn red for sounding silly – always try!
the Bangla alphabet
We take a cha (tea) break. When I visited the school to register, Dipali must have asked the school to provide breakfast and lunch for me. She must have been worried that I wouldn’t eat! So Susan told me that I should go eat my breakfast in the kitchen. I'm super lucky, I have no cook in my apartment and I don’t know how to cook anything here so it's nice to know where I'm getting food from everyday. The cook is adorable. I love the way older Bengali women are very affectionate. I always outreach my arms to them and pat them on the shoulder, and they always take me by the arms, pinch my cheek. I love old people, because I think society forgets them and they long for human touch. And as we know: “I have an enormous need for affection, and a terrible need to give it” (Audrey Hepburn).
We return to class and practice sentence structure and begin with the root and present tense of verbs. The little bit that I picked up in Kolkata has been helping me a lot, I’m grateful. Hearing the sounds, more words and phrases are coming back to me so hopefully my vocab will grow quickly.
Instead of writing a novel like I normally do, I'll break up my first day into installments over the next week!!