Keeping the Nepali Language Alive in Queens

Students and parents at the Saral Nepali Language and Culture Center in Jackson Heights, Queens (Photo via Everest Times)

Despite the increasing number of Nepalese in the U.S., there is a decline in the number of Nepali-language speakers. Parents from Nepal worry that their children might forget the language and the culture. Now there are numerous options available in the NYC area for children to learn.

Concern that their children were not speaking the language motivated two Nepalese women in Jackson Heights in Queens.

Despite their busy schedules here, Padma Linkha Magar and Saraswati Rai have been running Nepali language classes for the last two years at their own expense.

Forty students come to study Nepali language every Sunday at the dojo at the International Martial Arts Association – New York  in Jackson Heights.

As soon as they enter the class, they greet each other by saying namaste.  Then they sing the Nepali national anthem. As they learn the language, they also read about Nepali festivals, which helps them understand their culture.

“After noticing children in Nepalese families not speaking in Nepali, we started teaching the language class with the intention of preserving the Nepali language and culture. In particular, we are running these classes to help retain a Nepalese identity, and to enable children to speak in Nepali when they travel to Nepal,” said Magar.

(Photo via Everest Times)

Also popular as a songwriter in Nepal, Magar is currently a social worker. She started the Nepali language classes along with Saraswati Rai, a health professional. The dojo supported their initiative by providing the space for free for the first year. Likewise, the parents of the children coming to learn the language helped them by donating some gifts. Beginning this year, Magar and Rai have started requesting a suggested donation of $10 per student.

“Children who speak well in Nepali in Nepal stop speaking the language in the U.S. With time they start finding it difficult to speak in Nepali. So, we started these classes,” says Rai.

They started teaching in September 2016 with eight students – their children and their relatives’ children. Rai says they never expected to have the number of students they have today. Currently the duo is paying $200 per month to the dojo for rent. The response from the students’ parents has been highly encouraging.

Impressed by the dedication of the two women, Uma Thapa Magar, a friend of Padma, has been volunteering as a teacher. Likewise, many parents have started supporting them by gifting the required stationery and materials during festivals. Some parents also come to volunteer in the classes.

Commenting on the classes, parent Yashodha Rai says, “Because the official language of Nepal is Nepali, the teachers are to be commended for teaching the national language to children.” She volunteers in the class whenever she has the time.

The duo have started selling T-shirts with the Nepali alphabet, KaKhaGa, for $10 a piece. The money raised from the sale of these T-shirts has been helping them financially. In order to carry this class further ahead, a nine-member board has been formed that includes six of the parents of the students. In addition, they are now in the process of officially registering an organization with the name “Saral (Simple) Nepali Language and Culture Center.”

“We are satisfied at the parents’ response and the way the children are learning the Nepali language,” said Magar.

The class runs every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Children five years and older attend. Out of the total of 50 children who have been signed up for the class, at least 35 attend every class.

Language classes at Sherpa Kyidug

Since last year, Sherpa Kyidug – a nonprofit organization based in Queens – also started offering Nepali language classes, every Saturday.

“We have been teaching the Sherpa language and Nepali language to children born to Nepalese in the U.S. since last year,” said Temba Sherpa, who is also the secretary of the organization.

Nepali is widely spoken in Nepal whereas Sherpa is limited only to the indigenous Sherpa community.

Prabha Adhikari, who has years of experience teaching Nepali to Americans in the Peace Corps, is teaching the language to children at Sherpa Kyidug.

According to Temba, “Despite the interest in taking Nepali language classes, not all children are able to manage to find the time to come for the classes.”

Language classes at the Tamang Society

The Tamang Society of America, a community organization based in Queens, has been conducting language classes from its office this year.

The president of the Tamang Society, Sanu Maya Tamang, said, “We are giving this class to teach the Nepali language to the children of Nepali families in the U.S., and to pass down the Nepali culture and tradition to the younger generation.”

The organization has been running classes every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. According to Sanu Maya, in the near future, their plan is to start teaching the Tamang language and English language classes. They are offering free classes and have 11 students.

“Classes like these help build unity among Nepalese and foster a prosperous Nepali diaspora,” said Sanu Maya.

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