Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken by about 66 million people worldwide. According to the Ethnologue language report, the majority of Tamil speakers live in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu although there are also smaller communities of Tamil-speakers in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Learning Tamil will be beneficial if you plan to travel to a Tamil-speaking part of Asia. If you need to learn to speak Tamil quickly, there are numerous free resources available on the Internet to help you.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
Learn the Tamil alphabet. Tamil is written with a unique syllabic alphabet, which means there is a vowel attached to each consonant. To be able to read and write in Tamil, you need to be familiar with all the letters of this alphabet. Download a Tamil alphabet chart, such as that on the "The Tamil Language" website" (see Resources 1), and print it out. Copy out the letters on the chart, concentrating on one letter at a time, until you are confident you can reproduce them accurately. Then practice writing out the letters from memory without looking at the chart.
Master Tamil pronunciation. Listen to the pronunciation of the letters of the Tamil alphabet and practice repeating the sounds aloud to yourself. Use online resources, such as the Tamil pronunciation pages on the website of the University of North Carolina (unc.edu/~echeran/paadanool), to see approximations of Tamil sounds to English words and advice on difficult consonant clusters. Click on the audio files and listen to the correct pronunciation of single and double consonants within Tamil words.
Study Tamil grammar. Understand that Tamil is an agglutinative language, which means you create new words by adding a system of affixes to existing roots. Tamil has seven grammatical cases, and nouns change their ending depending on which case you use to show their role in a sentence. Note that you also add suffixes to verbs to illustrate person, number, mood, tense and voice. Familiarise yourself with the key rules of Tamil grammar so that you can begin to communicate accurately in the language.
Expand your Tamil vocabulary. Study an English-Tamil word list, such as that on the University of Pennsylvania website (plc.sas.upenn.edu/tamilweb/englishtamil.html), to identify words you want to learn in Tamil. If you need to learn Tamil quickly, focus on acquiring basic words and phrases that will be useful to you in the short term rather than obscure or specialised vocabulary that can be learnt at a later date. Keep a record of the new words you learn and enlist the help of a friend to test you on them.
Practice what you have learnt. The quickest way to learn Tamil is by actively using the language in real life. Search for native Tamil speakers in your area and arrange to meet up to practice speaking Tamil. Ask them for feedback on your pronunciation, grammar and accent. Develop your understanding of written Tamil by reading basic texts and stories in the language. Download Tamil stories and songs from the Duke University website (duke.edu/~skc9/tamilclass) to practice your language skills.
Tips and warnings
- Dedicate a certain amount of time each day to learning Tamil, preferably during the early morning when your brain is likely to be at its most active. Start each session by reviewing what you learnt the day before, to see whether it has stuck in your memory. Small amounts of regular study will help you make rapid progress.
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