A fun way to learn your mother tongue (it involves listening to some great songs!)

A fun way to learn your mother tongue
5. General

A fun way to learn your mother tongue (it involves listening to some great songs!)

I figured out a cool way to learn my mother tongue better, at the age of 44. And I think you can use it too.

Bonus: Apart from learning the language, you’ll get two extra benefits.

Intrigued much? Read on.


‘Chinna chinna aasai’ (the iconic song from ‘Roja’ which announced the arrival of a genius maestro called AR Rahman) means ‘Little wishes/desires’.

For a long time I had a ‘chinna aasai’ – to learn my own mother tongue better.

That’s right. I can’t read or write in Tamil (I grew up in Mumbai/Aurangabad and never had the opportunity to learn the language at school).

Over the years, I did try to learn the language. Bought a book called ‘Learn Tamil in 30 days’. But didn’t get past the first two days. Tried to watch tutorial videos online. That didn’t help much. I even downloaded an app to learn how to write the letters, but gave up on seeing the complicated vowels themselves.

The main reason why these approaches failed? All of them focused on the letters of the language.

But I had a more fundamental problem: vocabulary.

That’s right. People like me (who haven’t formally learnt Tamil) end up using a lot of English even when we speak it at home.

For e.g. we might say: “Andha bird-odu wings beautiful-aa irukku” (‘The wings of that bird are beautiful’ – bet you couldn’t guess that!)

The proper Tamil sentence: “Anda paravaiyin chiragugal azhaga irukku”

Paravai = bird
Chiragu = wing

Words like these were not in my vocabulary.

So before I tried to learn the letters, I had to increase my vocab.

How could I do that without being able to read the language?

Enter, movies.

Well, actually, movie songs.

I realised that while movie dialogues use simpler, everyday Tamil, song lyrics use richer language. Tamil cinema has a long tradition of famed lyricists writing evocative songs to express thoughts and emotions in a memorable way. If we listened to iconic song lyrics, we would learn new words and have fun doing so!

Ok, so the learning content was finalised. But who would be the teacher?

Enter, my dad.

Appa did his schooling at the ‘South Indian Education Society’ (SIES) School in Kings Circle, Mumbai. Tamil was a core subject for him and he can read and write the language fluently.

And so the plan was finalised: Every day (when possible) we’d sit together as a family post dinner – my dad, my wife, our 11-year-old boy, and I (our daughter is young and sleeps early).

We would choose one Tamil song and play it on YouTube.

And we would keep pausing after every line, asking my dad what a specific word meant.

We’ve been doing this for about a week and it’s been lovely so far.

Specifically, it’s been a great way to:
1. Learn the language, word by word
2. Get everyone together in the house for a common activity (instead of doing our own thing)
3. Enjoy and learn from fabulous poetry and music

I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning a language.


Oh, and the first song we took up?

‘Chinna chinna aasai’ 🙂

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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