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Linking Young Minds Together
 Volume 3 | Issue 07 | February 20, 2011 |


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A Language of Our Own

Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra
Photos : Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

“A different language is a different vision of life.”
-Federico Fellini

A Bangladeshi student learning Japanese at IML

The International Mother Language Day originated as the international recognition of Language Movement Day and has been celebrated in Bangladesh since 1952. In 1999, UNESCO first announced 21st February as the International Mother Language Day. However, this declaration was made official in the year 2008 by the United Nations General Assembly. The idea behind this was to globally promote awareness of cultural diversity and multilingualism. This is particularly special for us because it not only gives us the opportunity to honour our own soldiers but also lays the platform to pay tribute to other languages.

The University of Dhaka, has always played an integral part in the formation of our country, be it politics or any other field. Its students have proved to be not just respectable citizens but have also secured their roles as world citizens. The Institute of Modern Languages (IML), an institute under the University of Dhaka is one of those very rare institutes that gave students and keen learners all over Bangladesh to study foreign languages. It has also welcomed learners and teachers from foreign nations to set up a world of their own in Bangladesh -- an exchange in which our students can indulge in learning their language while they can also study the Bangladeshi culture.

The Institute of Modern Languages was established on July 1, 1974. Around 12 different languages are taught at this institute, namely, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, German, Persian, French, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Japanese, Bangla (only to Foreigners) and English. The institute's main aims are to provide teaching, training and guidance so as to prepare candidates for the Certificate of Proficiency, Diploma of Arts in Modern Languages, and for such other Diplomas and Degrees that may be decided upon by the university. Additionally, it also provides other services and facilities for training as may meet the needs of linguistic scholars, foreign services personnel and others.

The course categories are divided into Junior, Senior, Diploma and Higher Diploma courses. The course structure is designed to offer one-year non-degree courses (120 hours for each course). The foreign languages that attract most students are Chinese, French, Japanese and English. Almost, anyone with a moderate CGPA grade in their High School Certificate (HSC) examination or equivalent can enter for the junior programmes.

The library at IML

The institute also has a library and five language labs. An approximate of 1500 plus students study different languages and around 20-25 foreign students study Bangla at IML. However, due to visa problems, the number of foreign students coming to Bangladesh has decreased. In addition, short courses are also available on differentcourses like Hindi, even though Hindi courses have not been fully introduced. Previously, Italian was also offered but due to the lack of faculty members the course is currently not offered.

Institute of Modern Languages provides the opportunity to know foreign cultures better through learning foreign languages. It connects the unknown lands with our very culture and tradition. Rehena Sultana, a student of Economics, studying Japanese says, “The thought of knowing another culture and language is truly exciting. It brings us very close to their traditions and beliefs.”

Drawing emphasis on culture, students from different universities enrol at IML to learn foreign languages so that they can study the Literature. For instance, Ashraf Ali, student of Chemical Engineering, BUET, learning Spanish at IML says, “It doesn't serve me any particular purpose, but it gives me pleasure. My aim is to learn a language so that I can read their literature in its purest form.”

On the contrary, some highly ambitious students believe that languages are learned to serve particular purposes. Sazzadur Rahman, student of IBA, learning Chinese elaborates on this and explains, “It is more of a necessity than a hobby. The Chinese market is dominating the world today and in China it becomes difficult to navigate and do businesses without actually knowing their language. Apart from that, I do think that Chinese culture is one of the richest and I personally like Chinese art a lot.”

The treasure trove from around the world

Spending her spare time reading other languages

On a different note, the credibility of these foreign language courses often seems to be aquestion. The motive behind learning a foreign language and the recognition of the certificate often arise questions in the minds of several. Will my French or Spanish certificate help me receive a waiver for a preliminary course from a university abroad? Well, the answer is simple. When it comes to receiving a degree from the prestigious University of Dhaka, some consideration is always brought in. However, each language course has equivalent examinations which are globally recognised. With the gathered knowledge and skill in a certain language from IML, one can easily sit for those equivalent exams and study abroad. On this notion, Jannatul Ferdous, student of Arabic at IML, also pursuing education in Islamic Studies, DU, says, “It feels good to learn Arabic, considering it is the language of theHoly Quran, I really want to know the root language and what the Almighty has mentioned in the holy book. In addition, I also want to study in the Middle East and Malaysia where Arabic is very important.”

Lecturer of the French Department

To commemorate the International Mother Language Day, Bipul Chandra Deb Nath, Lecturer, Department of French, says, “Our interaction with foreign languages and their culture is much less and distant compared to someone who is a native speaker and teacher of that particular language.

For example, if a French teacher teaches French to Bangladeshis, the experiences and ideas he will share will definitely be different from the way I would. So, I believe the way they spread the language and the way we spread their language does vary.”

A student engrossed in learning about the Chinese culture

Mohammed Abdur Rahim, Director, Institute of Modern Languages, on this note, explains, “The way the foreigners spread their languages and enrich their culture is widely different from the way we do. We as a nation have not done much to take Bangla to the next level on a global context. There are only a handful number of people who have taken Bangla with them to a foreign land. Our scope is very limited as we only celebrate one language day and that is the end of it.” He further illustrated his points and related to a report from the Daily Prothom Alo and adds, “If one doesn't know their own mother language well enough then he does not possess the ability to know other languages either.”

Our beloved brothers Rafiq, Shafiq, Salam, Barkat, Jabbar and many others sacrificed their lives so that we can have a language of our own. Today, we not only remember them as the ones who have given us the freedom of speech but have also given us the privilege to respect other languages and become world citizens.

Learning Bangla as a foreign language

Rakibul Hasan

It was a sultry noon of summer. Exhausted by the scorching sun, the tired dabwala (coconut vendor) was resting on the shade of a tree nearby the street, when he saw a stranger from a distant foreign land was coming towards his selling curt. The idea of earning a bit more money from the bideshi (foreigner) than his usual customers brought a grin to his face. But the buoyant dabwala was dumbfounded as the foreigner said, “Amake sar soho ekta dab den (give me a coconut with a bull)!”, flabbergasted by the strange demand, the dabwala kept asking the foreigner, what does he really want, until the dabwala finally got to understand that his unique customer should say the word 'sansh' (kernel) instead of 'sar' (bull), as he was looking for a coconut with kernel! Daniel Daily, a US citizen and a student of Department Bangla at the Institute of Modern Languages (IML), Dhaka University (DU), was sharing the rather hilarious story of his erroneous use of Bangla vocabulary in the streets of Dhaka. Living in Bangladesh for past few years, Daniel can now speak in Bangla quite fluently. Daniel is one of those few foreign nationals, who have grown a fascination for learning Bengali as he was amazed by the beauty of the language and wanted to communicate with the people of Bangladesh more freely in their own tongue. After visiting Bangladesh for the first time, Daniel got himself admitted at the Department of Bengali under the Institute of Modern Languages, Dhaka University in the year 2008. The Bangla Department of the IML, DU is one of the few specialised institutions in Bangladesh who performs the duty of spreading Bengali Language to the foreign nationals by teaching Bengali and by developing necessary study materials for the students.

Foreigners at an interactive class room

While many would say the sphere for the use of Bengali language is reducing day by day, the Bengali department at IML, DU has been doing a commendable job at modernising the teaching and learning materials for Bengali since the emancipation of the department. At present an integrated method is followed to teach the student, which comprises both the communicational and structural aspects of the language.

There may be a perception even amongst the native speakers that Bengali as a language is quite difficult to learn. However, Professor Monsur Musa, the Head of the Department of Bangla, IML, DU, thinks otherwise. According to Professor Musa, “No language is easy or difficult if it can be learnt scientifically. Bangla is a highly systematised language in terms of phonetics, phonemes and graphics. As there is a law of association within its structure, foreigners can pick up Bengali in a short time”.

The teachers and researchers at the Bangla Department of IML have developed specially designed resource materials for the learners at particular levels of the course. The materials include books, cassettes, cds, graphic cards, specially designed software to practice spoken Bangla etc. The students get introduced with the literary works of renowned poets and authors like Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay, at the institute by audio-visual presentations.

A step towards becoming world citizens

Ehsanul Kabir, an M.Phil student at the Bangla Department in IML is conducting a research on certain linguistic problems associated with the use of Bangla in computers under the supervision of Professor Monsur Musa. One of major focus of Ehasanul's work is to sort out the problems with optical character reader through which any image version of the Bengali alphabets can be converted into texts. According to Ehsanul Kabir, though Unicode 5 has almost solved the problems with the use of Bangla symbols in computers, there is still a long way to go if we want to perform all our computing needs in Bangla. So there should be more initiatives and patronisation in further research to develop expertise on computing in Bangla from both linguistic and technical fields.

These days when Bengalis are more influenced by the western culture and the fashion trends of the Hindi movie stars, foreigners from the different parts of the world are showing interest to explore the rich heritage of Bangla culture and literature. Ji-Cheol Kim, a diploma student from South Korea at the Department of Bengali, IML, DU, came to our country with an aim to learn Bangla. A devoted

Materials used by the Bangla Department of IML

Tagore reacher, Kim shares his experience of rediscovering Tagore as he says, “I first came to learn about Tagore from the poems of Yong-Un Han, one of the greatest poets of my country. Han was influenced by Tagore's perspective on spirituality and self-determination. Though some of the Tagore's literary works were available in English and some other languages, the authenticity of Tagore's literary works can be experienced only by studying Tagore in Bangla. So I came to Bangladesh in 2007 to learn Bengali and to rediscover Rabindranath. I also hope to translate some of Tagore's poems to Korean language from the original Bangla form.”

Though the Department of Bengali, IML, DU, stands out as a unique place to spread the knowledge of Bengali language to a global extent, many foreign students have been disappointed because of complicated admission procedure for the foreign nationals. To be a student at any of the courses, the foreign students have to go through a painstaking and time consuming process of achieving the permission from the embassy or high-commissions of their country of origin and several government ministries. According to Professor Monsur Musa, the Head of the Department of Bengali, IML, DU, to encourage more foreign students to learn Bangla, measures should be taken by the government and university authority to simplify the admission process.

A foreign student pursuing Bangla at IML

Mehjabin Mostary, a DU student who has conducted a research on the different methods of teaching Bangla as a foreign language, recommends that students from different language backgrounds should be taught individually as that way it would be helpful for them to pick up the language structure of Bangla more easily. She also insists on providing the students with modern resource materials. Besides teaching the standard forms of Bangla, students may also be introduced to the day to day language by watching movies and dramas.

Today 21 February is internationally accepted as the International Mother Language Day in recognition to the sacrifice of our language martyrs for who we can talk, read and write in our mother tongue with dignity. It is a matter of pride that this day, although celebrating the mother tongues of the world, is mainly a tribute to the sacrifice for our language. As a proud nation we have a lot to offer to the world. And to spread the knowledge of Bangla to foreigners can be a great way to commemorate the sacrifice of our language martyrs in a befitting manner.


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