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Where To Start Learning Tamil

Janahan Sivaraman
Janahan Sivaraman
8 min read
Where To Start Learning Tamil
Photo by William Bout / Unsplash

3 years ago, I couldn’t speak a full sentence in Tamil.

Today, I can hold 45 minute conversations with native speakers.

If I hadn’t found The Tamil Channel (Sabtha) on Youtube, my mother tongue would have died with me.

A question I often get is “Janahan, where do you recommend I start?”

Tamil is a diglossic language. This means it has both a colloquial flavor, used in everyday speech, and a formal flavor, used in books, news, and speeches.

So here are the resources that turned me from a total beginner to an intermediate level, formal-leaning speaker.

625 Most Common Words in Tamil

Learning the 625 most common words in Tamil gave me a solid linguistic foundation.

It gave me enough confidence to dive deeper into vocabulary and grammar.

The words are all visual - so I could learn them with the help of images, instead of relying on translations.

This concept was popularized by Gabe Wagner, Founder of Fluent Forever. He used this as the basis to become fluent in German in 14 weeks, French in 5 months, and Russian in 10 months.

I asked Sabtha to create a deck for the 625 most common words (in thematic order, in alphabetical order) in Tamil. She did it!

Since I am focusing on speaking and listening, it’s critical that the cards in the deck contain images so I could skip reading English while I build Tamil vocab. The cards also need audio clips so I could improve my hearing and pronunciation.

Otherwise, if the card is text only - I would be practicing Reading English -> Reading Tamil.

The goal is to go from Seeing an Image -> Hearing Tamil.

And mimicking the Tamil back.

You can download the 625 Most Common Words in Tamil deck here.
Once you download it, load the file into the AnkiMobile App.
Get the app on your phone via the Play Store/App Store.
It's free for Android, not for iOS.

It's also free in the browser.

Simple Sentence Structure

While I was creating a vocabulary foundation, I started learning simple sentence structure.

Sentences in Tamil are Subject-Object-Verb (S-O-V). Contrast that with English, where sentences have a S-V-O order.

While Subject-Verb (S-V) sentences are valid grammar, the ideas I could convey were limited - like Mother sings, I sit, You speak. Without an object.

In Tamil, the order of writing is “Mother (song) is singing”. “Mother” is the Subject, “song” is the Object, and “singing” is the verb. The sentence order is Subject-Object-Verb.

Here is Sabtha's video for sentence structure in Tamil on YouTube.

With this knowledge, when listening - I could deduce how things are interacting. When speaking, I could go beyond எனக்கு பசிகது (I’m hungry).

Colorful Sentence Structure

My next step was adding Adverbs/Adjectives. Without knowing this, I couldn’t describe the way the Subject or Object is Verbing.

The shape is A-S-A-O-A-V where the A’s are adverbs or adjectives.

The Green “அ" are the adverbs/adjectives in the sentences. This translates to “Artistic Sinthuja easily drew the beautiful painting”. It’s an “aana” ending for adjectives. “aaha” for adverbs.

Sabtha made a video for adding adverbs and adjectives.

When listening - it allowed me to visualize the imagery more vividly. When speaking - I was able to be more expressive. It gave my speech some flair.

This unlocked a new level for the maturity of my speech and listening.

Verb Conjugation

Depending on the timing and who is verbing, the verb’s middle and ending is modified to encapsulate that.

Just as English has roughly 12 tenses, Tamil does too - give or take. Instead, I focused on these 3 starter tenses:

  1. I sat (simple past)
  2. I am sitting (present continuous)
  3. I will sit (simple future)