I am determined to be able to be able to learn Burmese script before the end of these three months – or perhaps before 2013 starts. I don’t think I’ll be able to really ‘read’ by any means, but I want to at least be able to recognize the sounds/phonics and learn the names of the letters. My main rationale, just like with Thai, is that I will be able to use the script to better inform my pronunciation of difficult words. It’s hard to memorize script, but it’s also hard to memorize somewhat arbitrary letter combinations that change from publisher to publisher.
Above are the consonants. There are 33. The circular letter shapes are “a result of the use of palm leaves as the traditional writing material.” Apparently straight lines would have torn the leaves (link).
Each consonant and vowel has a sound and a name because some symbols have the same sound. It’s just as if we were to have two letters with the “a” sound but we needed to differentiate a different symbol for the times we use “apple” and times we use “aardvark.”
I started using a combination of these Burmese Script Lessons and my favorite language learning website, Memrise, to start figuring out which sound corresponded with which symbol. I like Memrise because it encourages the use of mnemonics to remember things, so it forces me to think of visuals like “this symbol makes the /s/ sound… it looks like an eye looking left… the Latin word sinister/sinistra is left because left-handed = evil…” and boom! Instant memory.
I was desperate to find the book “Burmese for Beginners” online in PDF format, but I couldn’t find anywhere to download it. Luckily, the universe was on my side and when I was studying Burmese at a coffee shop, I overheard snippets of a Burmese lesson. When I asked for the tutor’s phone number, I saw a photocopied version of the book on the table. Copyrights have zero sanctity in Thailand.
Our first Burmese lesson was on Monday and our Burmese tutor, Deborah, has almost perfect English. In doing research for my volunteer organization on ethnic groups, I learned that it can be easier for some ethnic groups, like the Karen, to learn English than to learn Burmese. Karen is its own language and it turns out that the grammar is more structurally similar. Ethnic group or not, the level of English speaking here is much much higher than it was with our Thai community in Surat Thani.
The Burmese word for “goodbye”? “Ta-ta.” Adopted from the British and quite easy to remember.