Learning Languages

I love learning languages. Its something that comes to me very intuitively. Not to toot my own horn, I learn ’em pretty quickly. Its one of the few things that I think I’m good at. I have good command over Tamil, Hindi and English. I can speak Telugu fluently and my Kannada is more than sufficient to speak to and understand a non-English non-Hindi knowing Kannadiga. I speak broken Malayalam and understand it OK. The reason I haven’t learnt is because the opportunity never arose.

It is my personal belief that learning languages through courses is not a very good method to learn said language. They generally teach in a formal structured manner whereas our daily interactions with the grocer or the maid are rarely so. The best method is to learn via interacting with friends and strangers. It just requires a bit of humility and self-depricating shamelessness. You need to be unafraid to make mistakes. I feel the fear of making a mistake and looking foolish is probably the biggest impediment in learning a new language. Why be afraid? It is not your “mother” tongue.

According to me, anyone, and I mean anyone, can learn any new language within 2-3 months to fully function in a new environment. It takes juuuust a little bit of effort to observe and recognize the patterns. For example, I observed that there are four different kinds of “the” in Spanish, El, Los, La, Las. By intuition, I could feel that Spanish nouns ending in a are probably feminine and made a connection that La is used for feminine nouns like La Cocina (the kitchen) or La Vida (the life). The next thing I noticed that Los & Las, were used for nouns ending with s i.e. plurals. So I deduced that

El – Masculine singular noun – El Capitan (The Captain)

La – Feminine singular noun – La Hija (The Daughter)

Los – Masculine plural noun – Los Angeles (The Angels)

Las – Female plural noun – Las señoras (The Women)

Just an example and they are probably not entirely right in the strict grammatical sense. Sorry if I offended native Spanish speakers.

Turns out I was right. Now I don’t speak Spanish but this was just an observation of a pattern that turned out be right. The intuition need not be right always but you can certainly train your intuition to be right. The target audience, if I can even call it, of this post is Indian language speakers. As much as my fellow Dravidian sympathizers would not like to acknowledge it, all current Indian languages are heavily influenced by Sanskrit. You can rationalize & justify by saying “pure Dravidian languages” don’t use Sanskrit words but it is near impossible to speak Sanskrit free Tamizh without confusing even native speakers.

Other major South Indian languages (There really are South Indian languages other than Tamizh, Kannada, Telugu & Malayalam. I know! Shocking right?) make no bones about using Sanskrit. If you listen to any Kannada/Telugu/Malayalam newscast you’d think they’re speaking pure Sanskrit. Its my personal belief that this inherent advantage is what helps South Indians learn any North Indian language quite easily whereas genuinely interested and enthusiastic Indians north of Vindhyas find learning any southern language quite difficult.

The aim of this post is to formulate a method of starting to learn any Indian language, especially South Indian languages for north Indian folks. It is based on my personal experiences and how I went about learning how to speak newer languages. I feel we can broadly categorize it into two categories: critical words & tenses. So without further adieu I’d like to present to you a guide to learning languages.

Critical words

In daily conversation, there are a few critical words that are needed. The most important necessity for life is food. So we go to a grocery store. We need to buy stuff to cook. The most important words we need to know in the shop is where & how much is said stuff. So I feel these words in specific groups are critically important. I have written the Tamizh, Telugu, & Kannada equivalent in ITRANS respectively.

  1. You, me, your
    1. You – nI/nInga, nuvvu/mIru, nInu/nIvu
    2. Me – nAn/namma, nEnu/mA, nAnu/namma
    3. Your – un/unga, nI/mI, nin/nim
  2. Him, Her, Them
    1. Him – avan, vADu, avanu
    2. Her – avaL, AviDa, avaLu
    3. Them – avanga, vALLu, avaru
  3. Who – Male, Female
    1. Male/Female – evan/evaL, yevaDu/yeviDa, yevanu/yevaLu
    2. With respect – evar/evanga, yevaru, yAru
  4. What, Why, How
    1. What – enna, EnTi, Enu
    2. Why – edukku, entukku, yAke
    3. How – eppaDi, yelA, hEgE
  5. This, That, Which
    1. This – idu, idi, idu
    2. That – adu, adi, adu
    3. Which – edu, Edi, yAvadu
  6. Now, Then, When
    1. Now – ippO, ippuDu, ivaga
    2. Then – appO, appuDu, Avaga
    3. When – eppO, eppuDu, yAvaga
  7. Here, There, Where
    1. Here – ingE, ikkaDa, illi
    2. There – angE, akkaDa, alli
    3. Where – engE, ekkaDa, elli
  8. How much, This much, That much
    1. How much – evaLavu, enta, eShTu
    2. This much – ivaLavu, inta, iShTu
    3. That much – avaLavu, anta, aShTu
  9. Come, Go & Do
    1. Come – vA/vAnga, rA/rAnDi, bA/banni
    2. Go – pO/pOnga, vellu/vellanDi, hOgu/hOgi
    3. Do – paNNu/paNNunga, chei/cheyyanDi, mADu/mADi
  10. Tell, Talk, Have
    1. Tell – sollu/sollunga, cheppu/cheppanDi, hELu/hELi
    2. Talk – pEsu/pEsunga, mATlAdu/mATlADanDi, mAthADu/mAthADi
    3. Have – irukku, undI, idE
  11. Yes, No, Want, Don’t Want
    1. Yes – AmA, avunu, havudu
    2. No – illa, lEdu, illA
    3. Want – vENum, kAvAli, bEku
    4. Don’t Want – vEnDA, voddu, bEDA

That is all! Approximately 35-40 words which you will use more than 75% of the time. You need not know the grammar or the structure but you can convey what you are trying to say nearly completely by using a combination of these words!

Tenses

The next part of speech is the tense. Past, present & future. Let me elucidate by simply combining the words in the previous section.

  1. I am doing. – nAn paNNinDu irukkEn, nEnu chEstunnAnu, nAnu mADtAidIni
  2. I will do. – nAn paNNarEn, nEnu chEstAnu, nAnu mADtIni
  3. I did. – nAn paNNiTTEn, nEnu chEsAnu, nAnu mADbiTTE

Simple. Any verb ending with kEn, unnAnu, tIni, & the others in the respective tenses will do the job for you. Once again the uncomplicated simplicity is clear to observe. A few more examples:

  1. When will she come? – avaL eppO varuvA?, AviDa eppuDu vostundi?, avaLu yAvagA bartALe?
  2. How much is this? – idu evaLavu?, enta idi?, idu eShTu?
  3. How do I go there? – anga eppaDi pOganum?, akkaDa elA vellAli?, alli hEgE hogbEku?
  4. We are doing it. – nAnga paNNinDu irukkOm, mEmu chEstunnAm, nAvu mADtAidivi

Summary

Yes my friends. It is this simple. Just do not be intimidated and be brave to make mistakes. You will be corrected. Don’t take offense and correct yourself. Another very helpful tip is to watch a few movies. _ollywood in India regurgitate the same tripe in every language. Any movie situation can clearly be understood by the images projected on the screen. All you have to do is correlate situation to the one in your native tongue.

When I was studyingvacationing in USA, my roommates were from Andhra. One of them wanted to learn Tamizh and I Telugu. So we made a pact that he would speak to me in Tamizh and I to him in Telugu and we’d correct each others mistakes. All it takes is this bit of effort my fellow citizens. It is not rocket science, you know?

P.S: I apologize for the mistakes in translations I have made. It is not intentional. Those who care enough please correct it in the comments. Thanks in advance.

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