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Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia

Burmese (Myanmar): An Introduction

Course books

Burmese (Myanmar): An Introduction

by John Okell
published by The Center for South East Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University, 1994

There are four parallel volumes in this series: two for learning the spoken language, one for learning the script, and a fourth for learning the literary style. Each is accompanied by audio tapes, and is designed to be used either with a teacher or for self-study. The series was developed over a period of several years, and has been tested, modified and expanded after use in the classroom.

Burmese: An Introduction to the Spoken Language, Books 1 and 2 focus on early encounters with Burmese speakers in Burma and abroad. Book 1 lays the groundwork, with copious exercises on tape, covering high-frequency sentence structures, pronunciation, question and answer with what, which, where, who, how much, numbers, quantifying, time-telling, phone numbers, prices, want to, have to, please do, and so on.

They cover survival needs (asking the way, taking taxis, going to caf├ęs, shops, etc.) and first conversations (Where are you from? How long have you been here? What's your job? etc.). It ends with a set of dialogues, again with plenty of oral practice, covering 12 situations, including survival (shops, taxis and so on) and social (Where are you from? Are you married? Shall we meet again? and so on). Book 2 extends your competence in the 12 situations.

Together the two volumes offer:

  • solid grounding in the grammar and sound system of modern colloquial Burmese
  • lessons kept short to enable flexible pacing and extensive practice
  • copious speaking exercises and practice dialogues on the tapes
  • review lessons at frequent intervals
  • Burmese material presented in both Burmese script and a roman transcription throughout
  • notes on etiquette and social behaviour in Burma
  • cumulated vocabularies, both Burmese-English and English-Burmese
  • additional vocabularies arranged by topic: names of clothes, foods, talking with Buddhist monks, etc

Burmese: An Introduction to the Script enables students with no previous knowledge of Burmese to become competent in reading and writing Burmese script. In particular, it offers:

  • use of tapes to link the symbols you read with the words you hear and say, and to avoid relying on romanized equivalents
  • readings from original Burmese materials
  • appendices on handwriting and cursive forms, ornate lettering, the Burmese names of the characters, Burmese alphabetical order, and common abbreviations

Burmese: An Introduction to the Literary Style is based on passages selected from children's school books used in Burma.

Parts 1 and 2 contain passages relating to life at home and at school, while the texts selected for Part 3 deal with themes of Burmese nationalism and independence. Each passage is accompanied by a full vocabulary and translation, and is followed by a set of exercises designed to familiarize the student with new vocabulary and structures. The accompanying tape allows you to hear the texts being read aloud.

To add variety, examples of public notices and announcements, also with vocabularies and notes, are interspersed among the schoolbook texts.

John Okell, a graduate of The Queen's College, Oxford, was Lecturer in Burmese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, until his retirement in 1999. In addition to articles on Burmese grammar, linguistics, and lexicography, Okell has written Burmese by ear (forthcoming 2002), Burmese/Myanmar: a dictionary of grammatical forms (with Anna Allott, 2001), First steps in Burmese (1989), and A reference grammar of colloquial Burmese (1969).