What is it? The study of a language spoken in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India, and by those communities in the UK; a member of the Indo- Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. You learn it through topics on society and culture. No literature at A/S-level: that comes in the second year of the sixth form.

What is it? The study of a language spoken in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India, and by those communities in the UK; a member of the Indo- Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. You learn it through topics on society and culture. No literature at A/S-level: that comes in the second year of the sixth form.

Why do it? Because you are from a family of Bangladeshi or West Bengali origin and you want to maintain links with your culture. It's useful for learning other north Indian languages, which are all derived from Sanskrit. Or you work with people from these communities and know the value of learning the language. You could argue it's more useful than French in Britain.

What skills do you need? It helps to have GCSE Bengali. Mulberry School for girls in Whitechapel only lets you take it at A/S-level if you have a B at GCSE.

How much practical work is there? None. You have to write short essays in the A/S- level, answer comprehension questions and translate from Bengali into English. No speaking or listening test - all of it is written.

Ratio of coursework to exams: No coursework.

Is it hard? Not according to Ghulam Murshid, examiner for the AQA exam board. It belongs to the same family of languages as English, and the sounds are common - that is, no guttural stuff. But you could argue that it's hard, because you have to learn a new alphabet of more letters than English (34 consonants, eight vowels, seven vowel signs and dozens of joint letters).

Is it enjoyable? Yes. In the second year, when you're doing the A-level, you study literature - writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to win a Nobel prize for literature in 1913; Syed Shamsul Huq, a playwright; and Sunil Ganguli, a novelist from West Bengal.

How many take it? There were around 100 students taking the A-level before the sixth-form curriculum was reformed. Now numbers are expected to double.

How cool is it? Getting cooler - see the figures above. Most of the Bengali-speaking people in the United Kingdom come from a single district, Sylhet. (Sylheti sailors came to Britain just before the Second World War). The Sylheti community is now becoming increasingly aware of the need for education.

Added value: In exceptional cases, students may get a trip to Bangladesh. But schools and colleges have to find the funds themselves.

What subjects go with it? Anything.

What degrees does it lead to? You could continue with your Bengali at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and add another language from the Indian subcontinent.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? Yes, especially in Tower Hamlets where many Bengalis live. You could get a job with the council or at the London Hospital, where 65 per cent of patients speak Bengali.

What do students say? "I thought it was going to be really hard, but it is enjoyable, as well. I speak the language at home and I took it at GCSE, but the A/S-level is very different from the GCSE. You have to write essays and analyse and explain things fully. In that sense, it's more difficult." Rahena Islam, 17, who is currently taking A/S-level Bengali at Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets.

Which awarding bodies offer it? AQA.

How widely available is it around the country? Various schools and colleges in the big cities - London, Leicester, Bradford, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham - offer it.

Comments