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Student, Third Year, Bachelor of Arts with a minor in Burmese
For Hanna Adam, her yearning for a sense of belonging and lack of a deep cultural connection with her roots were motivation enough behind her decision to study Burmese. Born to Burmese parents but raised in Australia, Hanna felt a certain loss of identity. So, when ANU launched its Burmese language program, she embraced it with open arms.
"My favourite word would be ချစ်စရာလေး (chit-sa-yar-lay), which means lovely or cute in English. It is my favourite because growing up I would hear it all the time, and it was the type of word that just exerts happiness, so it always makes me smile when I hear it."
1. Tell us a bit about yourself—what you do currently and what you studied.
I am currently a third year Bachelor of Arts student. My degree is focused on Criminology and Global Security with a minor focus in international communications.
2. What drew you to Burmese?
My interest in Burmese began from a very young age, as my parents are both Burmese and were born in Rangoon and Maymyo. Because of this I was constantly surrounded by the language, but unfortunately had no clue what anything meant as I was born in Malaysia but raised in Australia. However, over the years, I have been able to pick up on a few phrases or when I was the hot topic of any family discussions, but never enough to fully understand. I was also lucky enough to visit Myanmar on numerous occasions and attend traditional Burmese weddings as well as experience the Thingyan water festival. The golden pagodas, food and beautiful sights always left me awestruck.
Thus, being Burmese and having elements of the culture and etiquette ingrained into my upbringing, but not speaking or understanding the language, was definitely a setback. It impacted my sense of identity, as despite knowing and loving the culture and traditions of Myanmar, I was unable to express this to my Burmese counterparts, making it difficult for me to say that I am, in fact, Burmese.
So when ANU decided to offer Burmese and the opportunity arose to undertake it as a part of my minor, I jumped and knew it was not one I could pass up. However, since learning the language, I have discovered that Burmese is more than a gateway into understanding my own identity. It also provides an insight into the lives of the other 32 million people who speak it.
3. What were your top 3 favourite things about your language program?
One of my favourite things about learning a language course at ANU are the people you meet along the way and go on this journey of learning a new language with. Everyone is always so supportive and encouraging of each other throughout each course that it makes learning exciting.
Secondly, ANU offers a range of language courses online, including Burmese. For some students this has been tremendously helpful. This allows for increased accessibility and, in turn, allows students to learn a foreign language from around the world, bringing additional insights and perspectives to classes.
Finally, my third favourite thing about learning a language at ANU is the ability to further utilise and immerse yourself in clubs or social groups associated with the language on campus. ANU is open to various social clubs and groups that allow you to interact and meet with students who share the same interests as you. This is essential when learning a language, as it allows you to practice the language and immerse yourself with like-minded individuals. This allows you to further develop and learn the language. For instance, while learning Burmese, joining and interacting with members of the ANU Myanmar Student’s Association has been a key way for me to practice and further improve on my learning, as well as socialise and have fun.
4. Can you name 3 reasons for people to study Burmese?
Although Burmese may seem like a niche language to learn, there are approximately 32 million speakers of the language around the world, making it more spoken then Greek or Dutch.
Connectivity. I believe one of our greatest gifts as humans is our ability to connect with others and form bonds that can shape and uplift us. Without these connections we would be nothing, as succeeding and excelling in this world would be difficult. Learning Burmese has opened a new pool of connections for me, allowing me to develop bonds with others who speak the language as well as the opportunity to be humbled by their kindness and sense of community.
Finally, despite Burmese having a large population of speakers, the number of bilingual speakers is low. This means that there is often a demand for Burmese speakers who are also fluent in other languages, ensuring that learning the language opens up additional job opportunities. This is particularly useful, as Burmese is slowly gaining more popularity, and there is no better insight into Myanmar than through learning one of its key languages.
5. Can you share a fascinating/fun fact about Burmese/something you find particularly incredible about the language?
Having worked in various hospitality and health professions where human interaction is crucial, learning Burmese and having a second language under my belt has definitely been useful. There have been situations where the person I am assisting or interacting with is Burmese, and seeing their face light up and communicating with them in their first language is something that I find truly rewarding.
Additionally, even if they aren’t Burmese but are struggling to communicate, having patience and understanding is also a skill that is vital and is one that learning a language has allowed me to develop. Being able to live through experiences like this has allowed me to broaden my ability to connect with others, form strong relationships and gain a greater perspective of the world.
Similarly, it has allowed me to strengthen my understanding of other cultures ensuring the appreciation of the history, traditions and religions that are associated with the language. This is especially useful when interacting with people in my profession, as being aware of any biases and ensuring comfort and respect is of great importance. Thus, learning a language has truly broadened my overall skill set and ensured that I am always aware and understanding when connecting or interacting with others.
6. What are your future plans with respect to Burmese or any other language?
Burmese is one of a kind! It’s a member of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. However, even though it is linked to languages such as Chinese and Tibetan, there is no living language that shares a close tie to Burmese.
7. What are your future plans with respect to Burmese or any other language?
In the future, I hope to be completely fluent in Burmese and aim to incorporate it into my everyday life. This may include either at home with my family or in a job within the global security sector. But either or, I hope to maintain the teachings I have learnt and carry it with me into the future and potentially even learn another language.
8. Anything else you’d like to share? An interesting anecdote about your study of the language perhaps?
My favourite word would be ချစ်စရာလေး (chit-sa-yar-lay), which means lovely or cute in English. It is my favourite because growing up I would hear it all the time, and it was the type of word that just exerts happiness, so it always makes me smile when I hear it.
Have you always thought about learning Burmese? Maybe you have a certain connection with the language, or perhaps you want to learn the language of one of Australia’s closest neighbours. Whatever the reason, follow Hanna’s learning pathway to enrich yourself culturally. Enquire now
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