Bengali language courses

Studying Bengali at SOAS Language Centre

Alongside Assamese, to which it is closely related and with which it shares the same script, Bengali represents the most easterly of all Indo-European languages. It is the national language of Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) and the state language of West Bengal in India. With a number of speakers undoubtedly in excess of 200 million, Bengali is well within the top dozen most spoken languages worldwide.

Bengali was one of the first modern Indian languages to be cultivated for literary purposes and to benefit from the printing press under British rule, being the language of Calcutta, capital of British India until 1911. It has an impressive literary tradition, stretching back to the 13th Century, if not earlier, and has produced writers of international renown such as the Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore.

As with the majority of Indian languages, there can be significant differences between literary and colloquial forms of Bengali. A particular variant, shadhu bhasha (‘good/ chaste language’), was the predominant written form up until the early 20th Century. Contemporary written Bengali has, by contrast, drawn on cholit bhasha (‘moving/ walking language’), the variant that represents the everyday spoken language. 

Short courses in Bengali:

For course dates and information, please see our timetables

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