Tamil Learning Resources

It’s been a couple more weeks into my Tamil journey, and though I still can’t really say that I have a better grip on the language, I am here to report that I can now sound out words. Which is definitely an improvement.

Now, though, I’m working on actually being able to form sentences, which is proving to be more difficult than I first anticipated, since it turns out not all languages follow Indonesian sentence patterns. In my quest to write sentences on my own, I’ve turned to some outside materials to supplement my course work, because I can use all the help I can get.

The first thing that’s really been helping me has been Memrise. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is a website based on flashcards, most of which are user-created. As with other systems, such as Anki, you work through the flashcards using a system of spaced repetition. I use a similar method with my physical flashcards as well, but Memrise has been very helpful in automating the process and in cutting down on time spent making flashcards. In particular, the Beginners Tamil Script course has been fantastic. It walked me through all the letters and I’ve now moved on to recognizing written words. This course also includes a lot of audio files, which really helps in terms of connecting sounds to letters.

I’ve also been using the Tamil in Context course, which is a course that reviews the words that come up in my class’s textbook. This course doesn’t have audio, so I’ve found myself resorting to having Google Translate read the words to me. I can’t completely vouch for Google Translate’s pronunciations (some of their Tamil translations are certainly egregiously wrong), but even approximations of the pronunciation have really been helping me.

And speaking of the textbook, it’s available online for free. It is arranged in a rather confusing way (be sure to look for horizontal navigation on whatever page you click on to make sure you’re not missing content!) and doesn’t feature a lot of transliteration, which made it hard to use in the beginning. With a few more weeks under my belt now, though, I’ve started going back to earlier lessons and I’ve found that I’m finally able to understand them.

For a supplementary textbook, I’ve been using Elementary Tamil by K Karunakaran and R. Balakrishnan, which is composed of very small readings that have really been getting me up to speed in terms of how sentences are constructed. I can even write things like “He is my friend,” which I could not do two weeks ago.

Stay tuned to see what else I discover as my Tamil journey continues…

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Reflections on two weeks of Tamil

As I write this, but likely not as you read it, it’s been one week since I started taking Tamil lessons. They’re twice a week for about an hour, theoretically supplemented by about six hours of individual study per week.

I have no idea what’s going on.

The only other student in the class is a heritage speaker: he doesn’t know everything and speaks rather informally, but has a good accent and has a lot of cultural grounding that I just don’t (the other day he recited a proverb from memory instead of stumbling through reading it, which is a feat I can’t even accomplish at this point). This means that the class has to be pitched above my level so that we both feel at least somewhat engaged. This also means that I’m totally lost.

When I started learning Thai, we were speaking right away and we started learning to write almost right away as well. That said, we learned to write a few letters at a time and slowly built up to the whole alphabet over the course of many, many weeks. In Tamil class? I’m supposed to know the whole alphabet by now. Spoiler alert: I definitely don’t.

Because I’m supposed to be able to sound out words already, I’ve been focusing all my energy on learning the letters and not a lot of energy on building vocabulary, let alone complete sentences. This was made very clear last class, when we had to translate some sentences from English to Tamil. Grammar, what is that?

My teacher is traveling for the next two weeks, meaning that I have two weeks to catch up on everything as well as teach myself how to tell time and dates.

…Wish me luck?