Annual FeTNA/TNF Tamil Convention Souvenir (Malar)
Need to Rescue Thamil in America
name is Sendhil Kumar Cheran. I was born in America in 1978, and I have been living here
for the last 20 years. Since both of my parents worked, I attended
daycare from ages one to ten.
Ever since I was young, evenings, mornings, and weekends
were the only times I could play with or speak with my parents.
But even then my parents were too busy to pay attention to
me. Mom had to cook
and do other household chores.
Dad had to look after family finances and attend to miscellaneous
tasks. Therefore, I spent most of my time watching
tv. Having come to America for money, my parents
have to work non-stop. Taking only minimal vacation and working hard is the way to
get raises in salary and promotions, right? As a result, my family visits relatives
in Thamil Naadu once every 5 years.
None of these vacations ever lasts for more than 5 or 6 weeks.
So how is it possible to learn Thamil when one has very little
interaction with parents and cant spend much time in Thamil
Naadu? This type of situation can be found in a number of Thamil families
1996, I had very little knowledge of Thamil. Even though I knew the Thamil alphabet,
I didnt know how to speak, read, or write.
When I saw Thamil movies, I couldnt understand three-fourths
of the dialogue. But I possessed curiosity. I wanted to know Thamil and about the
Thamil culture, history, and language.
I read as much as I could find about the Cheraa, Cholaa,
and Paandiyaa kingdoms. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the English
translation of Silappathikaaram.
I read about the five landscapes found in Sangam period literature
and was amazed by its beauty. As I learned more and more, my interest
in Thamil increased. Following
the 1996 Thamil convention, I tried for the first time to speak
Thamil at home. Ive been spending the entire school
year this year learning Thamil in Thamil Naadu.
My Thamil is still weak in a number of areas, so I cant
say that Im proficient in Thamil. However, I do want to mention that Ive written 95% of
this article by myself.
Present State of Thamil in America
time goes by, Thamil is deteriorating in America. The majority of this countrys Thamil
youth dont know Thamil.
Those who do know the language use it only for watching movies,
listening to songs from movies, and bharathanaattiyam.
But they neither speak with other Thamil youth in Thamil,
nor do they read or write in Thamil. At the annual Thamil conferences run jointly
by the Tamil Nadu Foundation and Federation of Tamil Sangams of
North America, how many youth can be seen conversing in Thamil?
a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
In the youth conferences not only does the fragrance of Thamil
not permeate the forums, its scent is non-existent.
We need to adopt measures to dispel the ignorance of Thamil
that exists among second-generation Thamils. Only if the present condition changes
will Thamil have any life in the future of America.
are two types of Thamil education. The main type is language education. One should be able to speak, read, write,
and understand Thamil. A
number of Thamil parents in America are running classes geared toward
this type of education. But most of these attempts dont
meet with much success because the teachers dont know the proper
teaching methods. In order to share and discuss with everyone
methods for teaching Thamil, we should keep in touch through e-mail.
We could also establish a webpage.
other type of Thamil education is general knowledge. Thamil and the Thamil people have tradition. Do second-generation American Thamils
know about Thamil tradition?
Take for example the panai tree.
In English, this is called a palm or palmyrah tree.
When one mentions a palm tree, scenes like southern California,
the beach, the desert, and deserted islands may, in accordance with
American tradition, come to the mind of the average American Thamil
youth. But to a Thamil, the panai tree can evoke imagery of panai
tree leaves [panai Olai], dried panai leaves (used for writing)
[Olaich chuvadi], the alcoholic beverage tapped from the panai tree
[kaL], the non-alcoholic sweet beverage tapped from the panai tree
[pathaneer], unrefined sweet jaggery made from panai sap [karuppatti],
the tender panai fruit [nungu], people who climb the panai trees,
and the panai tuber [panaikkizhangu]. We need to teach American Thamil youth
about these sorts of symbols of Thamil tradition.
Thamil dance, games, Cheraa / Cholaa / Paandiyaa history,
literature, music, drama, grammar, festivals, customs, village life
and the like are topics included in general knowledge. We should gather information on these
topics and write articles in clear and understandable English.
We could establish a website that would include the articles
along with appropriate pictures, sound, and video.
American Thamil adults or Thamil scholars could write drafts
of the articles. American
Thamil youth could then edit the drafts and include the final products
in the website.
belonging to the Tamil Nadu Foundation and Federation of Tamil Sangams
of North America need to extend their full support to these plans. If they dont neither one of these
two organizations will exist in the future. Every year, TNF and FTSNA (FeTNA) presidents, secretaries,
and members spend lots of money and time in order to put on the
annual Thamil conferences.
If they were to set aside even a small amount of that time
and money for the development of youths Thamil knowledge,
that would be enough for us to bring about big changes.
Its shameful that those who are so eager to invite
movie industry people, Thamil scholars, and artists to America dont
pay attention to their childrens Thamil education. If someone says, This is a good idea. But I dont have the time to help, thats not
just an excuse. Its
an expression of ones hypocrisy.
A real Thamil will come running to prevent the death of Thamil.
He wont watch passively and make excuses.
Thamil enthusiasts, get in touch with me through e-mail. Lets unite and implement these plans.
agrees that its good for Thamil youth to know Thamil and about
Thamil. But when one
points out a few Thamil youth and says, They should learn
Thamil and about Thamil, a number of people will disagree.
Theyll say, Thamil education cant be forced.
Or youth will lash out by saying, If I want to learn,
Ill learn. Who are you to say that I should learn
are words that indirectly indicate a lack of interest.
People who are eager to learn Thamil wouldnt answer
this way. Even parents
will quote the above statements to use as an excuse to explain why
they didnt teach their kids Thamil.
But this view is misinformed and needs to be refuted.
almost all American high schools, American history is taught as
a required subject. The
majority of Thamil youth arent going to use in any way the
information learned in this course. However, no Thamil parents or youth would
consider this required subject to be educational imposition.
On the contrary, our Thamil youth try hard to get good grades
in American history. But when someone tells these Thamil youth
to show the same interest in learning their mother tongue that they
do in American history, theyll bring up the idea of imposition
of education. An even
clearer example is foreign language courses.
The syllabus of most American high schools and colleges includes
foreign language courses.
In other words, one must have studied a foreign language
in order to graduate. The
majority of our Thamil youth have been studying German, French,
Latin, or Spanish. But why arent they learning Thamil?
Is it necessary for Thamil youth who cant speak properly
with their relatives to learn other foreign languages?
I learned German from 6th to 11th grade.
Till this day, that education has been of absolutely no use
to me. If I had spent
that time learning Thamil instead of German, I would know so much
Thamil. Foreign language requirements are included
in syllabi with the idea that students should know some foreign
language. In general, that can be any foreign language. Therefore, its worth mentioning
that those who are proficient in Thamil or are learning Thamil dont
necessarily need to learn other foreign languages in school.
colleges and universities follow the philosophy of liberal arts
education for undergraduate studies. According to this philosophy, students take a variety of classes
along with the classes required for their degree. About half the classes one takes are classes required by the
degree; the other half are the various liberal arts classes.
At least one or two liberal arts classes have to be taken
from all of the following types of categories: social science, natural
science, history, mathematics, philosophy, (English) literature,
and foreign language. There
are two reasons put forth for the concept of liberal arts education. One reason is that studying a variety of subjects is essential
for broadening ones knowledge base.
If one were to take only classes related to his major, he
wouldnt know anything outside that field. The other reason is that one wont
be able to decide on a major until having taken and gotten a taste
of classes from various fields. Liberal arts education is an excellent
educational method. But
for some reason, even though Thamil youth accept this method and
get college degrees, they are disregarding their Thamil education.
When theyre taking a broad variety of liberal arts
classes, its not right for them to say theyre not interested
in Thamil. And its sad to hear this coming
from those who dont know even the slightest thing about Thamil.
believe that Thamil children have a natural interest in things like
Thamil, family history, and their ancestors way of life. Its while theyre growing up
that this spark of interest, instead of becoming a fire, becomes extinguished. There are a few reasons for this. One is that there arent any quality
textbooks for Thamil language instruction.
When Thamil youth are unable to improve their knowledge of
Thamil using substandard books, their interest decreases.
I have a plan to write a new CD-ROM Thamil textbook.
For information on existing textbooks, take a look at my webpage
(http://www.unc.edu/~scheran). The big reason for lack of interest in Thamil is parents.
When interacting with their children, parents dont emphasize
Thamil at all. When their children are reading Greek
epics in school, shouldnt parents introduce to them the Silappathikaaram? When their children are learning world
history, shouldnt parents say at least a couple of words about
the history of the Cheraa, Cholaa, and Paandiyaa kingdoms?
When their children are studying the critical thinking of Greek
philosophers, shouldnt parents give them an explanation of Thirukkural?
Because parents arent doing this, Thamil buds, instead
of blooming in young hearts, are withering from lack of care.
Just as parents have a duty to instill in their children good
character traits such as responsibility, honesty, and hard work, they
also have a duty to instill in them Thamil.
one expresses pride about their ignorance of Thamil. But a number of people who grew up without
learning Thamil express a longing for knowledge of the language. A number of youth who never paid any attention
as children to Thamil desire to learn it after beginning their undergraduate
education. Maturity and the college environment are
the two factors that bring about this change.
But because college is the time when youth begin to take
on a host of new responsibilities, they claim that they dont
have time to learn Thamil.
Sensing that, in the future, it wont be easy to learn
Thamil, some of them mutter sadly that their parents should have
taught them Thamil when they were children. In order to prevent this situation from
befalling other Thamil youth, we should hurry and put into practice
plans for Thamil education.
make Thamil live in America!
e-mail addresses: email@example.com