Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to learn the Tamil Alphabet

Learning a new orthography can be intimidating, but it is not really that difficult if you know how to start.

A little background:
Tamil is technically an abugida, which means that the letters are based on syllables, they contain (usually) both a vowel and a consonant and each change of consonant follows a predictable pattern. Looking at a Tamil க(ka) and கி(ki) you see a hook added to make the "i."

Online Sources for Learning the Tamil Alphabet
As for learning these new letters...
Start with an alphabet chart, and a couple of words you are learning. Start with maybe 5-10 words. You might start with the Alphabet learning workbook from Tamil Virtual University.  You can also jump straight into the Duke University web lessons, and slowly match up the letters in an alphabet chart. Basically you want to pick a few words, and practice the letters in those words. Practice the letters separately, copying them out, for example:
அ அ அ அ அ அ அ
ம் ம் ம் ம் ம் ம் ம் 
and also within words. அம்மா (mother), ஆமாம் (yes) , மாமா (uncle)

You can use any vocabulary list to start learning the alphabet. I don't recommend making flashcards for all 247 letters. I think it is a better usage of your time to focus on words that are currently in lessons you are working on, and then you will find yourself recognizing and knowing letters that you may not have explicitly practiced.

It is also useful to use Azhagi, NHM or the google transliteration for copying Tamil texts. You can immediately see if you are associating the correct sounds with the letter. Find texts in Tamil, and copy them again into your word processor/email or blog. 

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