Vanakkum. I bring you greetings from Tamil Nadu.
I suppose when you’re totally immersed in a culture it is natural to pick up bits and pieces of the local language. This is exactly what has been happening with every successive trip I’ve made to India to visit and volunteer at the Child Haven children’s homes. But, being that there are 6 different homes in India, with a different language spoken at each one them, bits and pieces is all I can seem to manage language wise.
The home in Kaliyampoondi, however, is different. This is the home that I have spent the most time at and the one that I am currently calling home. Here in the state of Tamil Nadu they speak Tamil of course, and one day quite possibly I will too. It seems that everyone is keen on my learning Tamil and everyone from the smallest child to the little old ladies wants to help teach me.
I already knew quite a few words and phrases from my previous visits and time spent volunteering. I didn’t really try to learn the language before, I just picked up some here and there from listening to conversations and from a few very persistent children forcing me to learn certain phrases. I knew the words for older brother anna and older sister acka, and younger brother thumbi and younger sister tungeetchi. I knew the various phrases centered around food like – have you eaten? sapadia or sapadingla, and the answers for yes sapaden and no sapilla. I knew thank you nundree and welcome nundree, and go po and come va, and yes amma and no illa.
Things have changed on this trip. I am actually making some effort to learn the language. I am learning new words over tea in the morning with the ladies – have you had your tea? tea kudichacha, yes I have ammam kudichachi. I am learning many new phrases from the nurse – where are you going? neengha enghe poringa and very good dancing roomba nalla nadanam adaninga. I now know the questions – what enna, where enghe, why enna, how eppidi (oops, I guess I still need to learn who). The kindergarteners taught me the numbers – one onnai, two rendai, three moonai, four nallai, five anji, six aru, seven eru, eight eattu, nine ombattu, ten pattu.
I find I understand far more than I can speak. It helps that many english words have been introduced into the language that don’t have a tamil equivalent. If I listen closely, I can usually pick out enough words to get the jist of the conversation, but I still miss the details. Listening is the easy part, it’s speaking that I have difficulty with. My tongue does not seem to want to perform the sounds of the Tamil language. I keep getting tongue tied and stuttering when trying out a new word or sound. One of the college girls told me that the Tamal language in it’s expanded form has 419 letters. No wonder I am having difficulty, I am used to only 26. Progress is slow going, but they may make a Tamil speaker out of me yet.
Well I suppose it’s time for me to go to sleep thunga po. There will be more language lessons tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!