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Learning Spoken Thamil

Like English, the Thamil language contains a myriad of spoken forms. The diversity of dialects is based on geography, social class, and a number of other factors. These lessons do not include complete information about the spoken language for precisely that reason. It would be far too difficult to cover all the different ways of speaking Thamil. Luckily, the vast majority of spoken Thamil can be derived directly from written Thamil

Those students who don’t already know how to speak will start by speaking in grammatical Thamil. It may sound funny to hear someone speaking in formal Thamil all the time, but it’s a great way for the learner to practice using the grammar. Usually the rules for converting grammatical Thamil to spoken Thamil are fairly simple, involving the deletion of certain syllables or changing of sounds. As learners gains more and more speaking experience and listen carefully to how others speak, they will learn how to “translate” the formal, grammatical Thamil to colloquial, spoken Thamil.

Accent: Pronunciation and Intonation

Learning the proper accent is very important. Accent is made up of a combination of things like pronunciation and intonation. Pronunciation is how each syllable and word is formed. Intonation is the emphasis or stress given to particular words or syllables in a sentence when speaking.

For example, contrast the intonation of the following two English sentences. Notice that both are written exactly the same, but their intonation when spoken acts to convey different meanings:
     WHAT were you thinking? (or WHAT were you THINK-ING?)
     What were YOU thinking?

English speakers in the Western world are used to hearing English spoken in a variety of accents that reflect the mother tongues of those speakers. Native speakers of Thamil are, however, not as familiar with hearing Thamil spoken with different accents. For example, the average Thamil person has never heard Thamil spoken with an American accent. As a result, native Thamil speakers may find it difficult to understand a learner whose accent reflects that of a foreign language.

The best ways to master the Thamil accent are repetition and listening. When using these lessons, read everything out loud to a native speaker. Ask the native speaker to correct your pronunciation and intonation. Then repeat the sentence out loud until you get it right. Also, listen closely to the way people talk by memorizing the pronunciation of every syllable and the pattern of intonation of the sentences. Then, as soon as you are done hearing that phrase or sentence, say it out loud and attempt to mimic what you just heard. If you can reproduce the phrase or sentence exactly as it was said, then you are well on your way to mastering the accent.

Accent is also a potential stumbling block for the learner. Unfortunately, native speakers sometimes make fun of learners who speak Thamil with a foreign accent. This can be very painful for the learner. The best advice for the learner in this situation is to work harder on your accent. Practice your pronunciation out loud when you are by yourself. If certain words, phrases, or sounds are especially troublesome, then say them out loud repeatedly until you can get it to sound right. I once saw a poster of a dancer with the words, “Learn Tamil: Teach Your Tongue to Dance.” The tongue movements required of Thamil can be quite complex and seem very rapid for the English speaker. It is unrealistic to expect to master these tongue movements without a lot of practice.

One way to minimize teasing is to speak in a safe and protected environment. You can start by speaking only at home with your parents, family members, or with friends. Ask these people you trust to help you improve your accent. When your accent gets better and you have acquired more self-confidence, you can start speaking with others.

In conclusion, if someone makes fun of your accent, do not let it bother you. Think of it as a challenge that can be overcome by hard work. Keep practicing the pronunciation, intonation, and accent until you correct your mistake.

  Spoken Thamil
  College Credit