I found myself in class in Kathmandu the other day, sitting one-on-one with my Nepali prof pondering the trials and tribulations that come along the path while learning Nepali.
I know what you’re thinking, Nepali is such an obviously useful language that no one should ever have to ask why I would want to learn it. Funnily enough, Nepali is actually not one of the most spoken languages in the world, shocking right?!
I have, however, always wanted to learn Nepali, which is quite evident when you look at my decision matrix deciding which language to learn next and realize that Nepali is… well… ugh… not even listed.
But fret not, as that post mentioned, I struggled with the formatting of importing the decision matrix into WordPress, showing only 8 or 9 languages in the post itself, as I open the full decision matrix own computer here, I find that of the 13 languages that I was considering to learn next, Nepali was… hmmm…. awkwardly still not listed.
Stranger yet, is that Hindi is actually not listed either, though you may remember the fun little challenge that I embarked upon to learn Hindi in one week…
So, we’re left with the slight idea that perhaps, at times, I don’t have the best foresight as to where I’m going or what I’m doing next… that’s one, totally legitimate, way to see things.
The other, is that the traveler’s path is continuously intersected with the opportunities, new challenges and new paths to pursue. It became important for me to learn Hindi in order to change the way that I was interacting with the locals whilst traveling through India. This was painfully obvious after the hardships of trying to make friends in Pushkar… and that leads us to Nepali.
Nepal is a phenomenal country, the people are so welcoming, the landscape is fantastic and there’s adventure around every corner. It can brag about having 10 of the 14 peaks that reach over 8000 meters (including sharing Everest with Tibet) and some of the coolest treks in the world… and all of these adventures and experiences are so much cooler if you can speak with the locals.
I might as well also mention that Jade is coming out from France and we are volunteering on an Eco-park in Nepal for the next few months, meaning that my 30th birthday is going to be spent in Nepal and I’m still reaching for the goal of speaking 5 languages… soo… Nepali just kind of makes sense in that way… but shhh… let’s just say that it’s for all the earlier mentioned reasons and not for the last one which really makes it a fairly selfish endeavour.
I had been told that most people in Nepal speak either English or Hindi so Nepali wasn’t that important to learn… but as soon as I started learning Nepali the very way that they responded changed.
I have been in Nepal now for two months, started classes in Kathmandu about 6 weeks ago, and finished them around 2 weeks ago. I lost almost a full week due to being sick, so we’ll say that I was in class for just about 3 weeks, 2 hours a day…. I believe the final count was 28 hours.
Without a doubt, Hindi was a huuuge help in learning Nepali. The two languages share many words, in fact somebody recently told me that 50% of the language is shared, (but the same day I was told that Nepal has 2 million inhabitants (it has 26), that it has the most water in the world (it doesn’t) and that it’s at war with India (it certainly isn’t) …so it might be prudent to not believe everything you hear out here.)
Personally, the biggest help was not the fact that the languages share so many words but rather that they are built in much the same way. Nepali is not a difficult language. It has few exceptions and it tends to be quite logical. What makes it difficult for people speaking European languages (including English) is that the structure is… well… not European.
For example, if you want to ask how long it takes to go from Kathmandu to Pokhara in a bus you would say,
Kathmandu baata Pokhara samaa busma kati ghantaa lagyo
which literally translates as:
Kathmandu from Pokhara to bus in how many hours takes…
understandable, it just takes awhile to wrap your head around how to structure a sentence…. and this is where Hindi was a huge help… as I had already broken many pencils, scrunched many papers and punched many doors trying to figure out where to put what words… meaning that learning Nepali was a much more peaceful process.
And to the Present
So where am I with my Nepali? Well, I’m able to have some conversations, but admittedly I really struggle to find my words. The major problem that I’m personally realizing is trying to figure out what the hell these nice people are saying.
We’ve been on the Eco-park for about a week now, and get visited by all sorts of neighbours and other farmers. We even spent the Holi festival here and had at least 100 people randomly dropping by to prove that white people can also be considered ‘coloured’…
Everyday I’m understanding more and more. The biggest thing is still the reaction of the people. I was talking to one of the neighbour boys yesterday and he told me that in his school, the teachers tell them to forget Nepali and only speak English… I was absolutely gutted to hear this as loss of language is closely connected to loss of culture and in my opinion the ‘more developed’ countries are not necessarily the most advanced countries… After all, there is so much that we can learn from each other, from different cultures, the way they do things, the way they see things… the way that they live.
The most recent numbers I’ve heard state that 6800 languages are spoken in the world today and more than half of those will be dead in our lifetime (meaning that no one under the age of 10 speaks them)… that’s so so sad. Nepali is not in that bracket yet, and hopefully, if others who visit here show that they are interested in learning it, and interested enough in the culture and what can be taught in this ancient language that comes part and parcel with it’s beautiful surroundings, then Nepali never will become a threatened language and the amazing Nepalese people will see that importance, for both their own children and any foreigners, in learning the Nepali language.