White Boy Learning Burmese

The journey of an average white guy trying to learn a non-Indo-European language

“So, uh… Why Burmese?”


That’s a really good question, without a doubt.  Why not learn Arabic so I could be one step closer to joining the CIA?  Why not learn Chinese so I could make business trips for successful companies in order to close the deal-of-a-lifetime in Hong Kong?  Why not learn Japanese and become the most-awesomest gaijin ever and totally pwn n00bs with my fansub translations like a BAWS?

Well, let’s start off with the most-cocky reason, and we’ll get to the least-cocky reason towards the end of the post:

1.  I already speak 3 other languages decently and am learning another language on the side of Burmese.

  • English (Native)
  • Spanish (Intermediately Advanced)
  • German (Intermediate)
  • Filipino (Beginner.  I speak Burmese better than this, if that tells you anything.)

2.  I kind of like the feeling of being one of the few white dudes I know of that speaks Burmese.

I mean, let’s face it.  I am a modest person, and whenever someone tells me ဪ ကုိဝင္းဟိန္း ဗမာလုိေျပာတာ အရမ္းေကာင္းတယ္! ေတာ္လုိက္တာေနာ္။, I always say ဪ ေက်းဇူးတင္ပါတယ္။ ဒါေပမယ့္ ကြ်န္ေတာ္ စကားေျပာေကာင္းရင္ မေကာင္းရင္ဆုိတာ မေသခ်ာပါဘူးဗ်ာ့။  And that is the sincere truth.  I truly believe I can not judge how well I am speaking.  Perhaps I can judge how someone else who is at a higher  or lower level of Burmese speaks, compared to me.  But with only three years of experience, I don’t have that much ground to be revered as a polyglot god.

However, no matter who you are, you always love to be appreciated for something you do well.  Especially if it is also something you enjoy to do.  I enjoy learning other languages and cultures, and since Burmese culture is not quite as popular as Japanese or German culture, for example,  I get a lot of thanks from complete strangers who meet me on the street, just for taking an interest.  That is one great motivation point.

3.  Why not?

I came across a very interesting website page about learning Latin.  One of the things that struck me in his defense of learning a “spoken Latin”, rather than a written-only style of learning was:

So why use oral exercises at all? Allow me an excursus. Here in the
United States, even mediocre schools’ French programs (for example) devote
many class hours every term to oral practice, although the vast majority of
students will never travel to a French-speaking country, ask where to go
for breakfast, order a cafe-au-lait, or chat up a native about football
scores. I don’t have any hard statistics to quote, but it seems optimistic
to suppose that 15% in a given class actually will go to France in a timely
manner and use what they have learned.

The obvious answer is that, of course, that’s not why they do it. Their
primary goal as teachers is to give their students mastery of the language.

Some people tend to think learning certain languages are a waste of time.  I certainly have not been spared this reaction to my learning Burmese.  It actually offends me because it almost seems like those who call learning Burmese a “waste of time” almost seem to be mocking the culture as a whole, rather than the studium itself.  This causes me great angst because I truly believe that there is not one language I’ve studied (yes, even Frech, which I despise) that hasn’t been useful at some point in my life.  The whole “waste of time” comment, even though I admittedly use the term myself, is quite subjective.  Honestly, learning Burmese –or any other language, for that matter– is kind of like a hobby.  Rather than collecting Hot-Wheels cars or joining 4-H, I learn foreign languages.

4. (Be prepared for the traditional-noble-polyglot-answer, kids!)  I want to be able to do something with it!

Yeah, that’s right, I said it.  I actually see usefulness in learning this language.  However, I think I will save the details for a future post.
So, there you go. I’ve posted some reasons, and now I’ve realized I’ve spent so much time writing in English rather than Burmese. So, to my non-Burmese readers, thanks for reading if you’ve actually read this far, and expect some posts that you’re probably not going to understand in the future. ကြ်န္ေတာ့္ ဗမာလူမ်ဳိးပရိသတ္ေတြအားလုံး ကတိေပးတာက အနာဂတ္မွာ ျမန္မာစကားလုိ ေရးေတာ့မယ္ေနာ္။ ျမန္မာစကားလုိေရးတာ တုိးတတ္တ့ဲေအာင္ ဒီ blog ပန္ဆင္း ဖန္တီး [ေက်းဇူးပဲ mm]ခ့ဲပါတယ္ဗ်ာ့။ တာ့တာ။


3 thoughts on ““So, uh… Why Burmese?”

  1. ျမန္မာစာကို အခုလို စိတ္ဝင္တစား ေလ့လာေနတာ ေတြ႕ရတာ ဝမ္းသာပါတယ္။ ဘေလာ့ကို ဖန္တီးတယ္ (ဖန္ဆင္း) တယ္လို႔ေရးလွ်င္ပိုမွန္ပါမယ္။

  2. I like the way you said “Rather than collecting Hot-Wheels cars or joining 4-H, I learn foreign languages.” Keep going. You are really on a right track. I started to know you after one of my cousins shared me your Youtube movie [BURMESE]ေနာေနာ္- မလည္စားနဲ႔ (Naw Naw- Ma Leh Saa Net) and like you said, since you are one of foreign people who speak our language, you’ve instantly got my interest to follow your works on languages. I am so glad that I’ve found someone who speaks our language in US. I have been here for one and half years and of course have faced lots of culture differences, I found some fun things on them thou. And back to your Youtube file, let me correct the spelling; it should be မလွည့္စားနဲ ့ . And your singing is better than speaking. It doesn’t mean that your speaking sucks. You’ve done a quite good job learning Burmese even though you have accent. Seeing your speaking, I feel like my friends here dealing my American English accent 😀
    Good Luck and bye !!

  3. ေကာင္းတယ္ ကိုတိုင္လာ ဆက္ေရးပါဦီး

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