Swimming Lesson # 2

J is seriously one of the best teachers I have ever met, even though that is not his profession. For our second swimming lesson, we continued to practice blowing bubbles under water, did flutter kicks holding the edge of the pool (ouch my lower back!) and he patiently watched as I tried to swim freestyle ungracefully. He has been so generous with his time that I figure the least I could do is teach him Bengali. This turns out to be a perfect exchange actually because people learn swimming and language in the same way, through immersion.

Total Immersion

The challenge is that I am not an expert in Bengali myself. I was lucky enough to have parents who (as a way to match with the English I was hearing in school and on my block during after-school kickball games) totally immersed me with Bangla at home. But going back and forth from English to Bangla I ended up, like many of my peers, speaking a hybrid language that we affectionately call Benglish. I don’t understand boiyer bhasha or pure language/language of books. But I know enough colloquial expressions to be able to communicate with my relatives in the motherland and follow some Bengali naatok from ETV. In my free time I enjoy translating English pop songs into Bengali, and one day I hope to be good as this guy who did an amazing translation of Rihanna’s What’s My Name.

Paying Dues

When it comes to learning, Malcolm Gladwell says (sorry J!) that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. By this theory, it would take me an hour of swimming every day of the year for 27 years to become an expert! Unfortunately, I don’t have that sort of time . . . I only have 24 days before my first surfing lesson. Besides, my goal isn’t to become the next Dara Torres, its to simply build stamina, not drown, and avoid becoming shark bait. But I really like the idea of the 10,000 hour rule. Its empowering to know that you can do anything if you have three things 1) desire, 2) discipline, and 3) opportunity. I definitely have desire and am lucky enough to have a pool within walking distance (opportunity), but I gotta work on discipline. I have to pay my dues. In true South Philly spirit, I’m gonna channel my inner Rocky Balboa!

When it comes to language, most of what I know about learning comes from personal experience or research that I read about young children. So I plan to use what I know about children’s learning and apply it to adult learning when I teach J Bengali. Research has shown that the more parents talk to their children and encourage them to respond, the faster their child’s vocabulary grows.

Keeping that in mind, J and I found that carving out an hour or even 10 minutes out of our day to sit down and practice Bengali just wasn’t working. We will be traveling to Bangladesh and India at the end of this year, so J has half a year to learn. The technique we are using is that for every sentence I say out loud, and every text message, IM, email, etc. I will say a sentence in English immediately followed by Bangla.

A text exchange from today

ME: The cat threw up today.
Beeral ta aachkey bomi korechey.

J: Dhonnobad for the update.

By integrating Bangla throughout our normal day, instead of sitting down for a separate lesson, J is learning words that are relevant and meaningful to his day-to-day communication. I also made flashcards which I made public on Quizlet (which I never heard of before today). By the way, Quizlet is amazing and the teenagers with iPhones today don’t know how good they have it . . . . you can study SAT vocab and you don’t have to make your own on 3X5 cards and carry around a bulky stack.

Lastly, an inspiration comes to me from my favorite expert douchebag Tim Ferris, who found that if you can learn 1,200 words of any language, you can have conversational fluency. That would be about 6-7 new words a day for 6 months (the time we have before our desher trip).