Two weeks with Tamil

So, I'm two weeks into Tamil. I have done 5 chapters of Colloquial Tamil, found some amazing Tamil you tubers and instagrammers and learned a little more about Tamil culture around the world. I've also managed to find 3 Tamil speakers through social media who have wished me well and who I have exchanged a couple of words with.

 I also made a first foray into written Tamil which has been really exciting! I have always admired how it looks but with over 200 letters, I wasn't sure I would even get them to them in a month. In the end a lovely person on instagram triggered it by replying to me in Tamil on instagram comment. I couldn't translate it in app so I had to work out how to use the Tamil key board on iPhone to type the message into Google Translate. Suddenly, by doing it, all the different letters started to make more sense and i got a little flash of insight into the patterns - so very satisfying!

 I'm enjoying myself but I also only have a tiny bit more Tamil than I did last week and I'm getting a bit distracted learning about more general culture in India - so I need to refocus. Therefore, I have booked a italki class in Tamil tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Tamil resources:
Verb table Colloquial 
Tamil audios

Tamil Youtubers
Steffi Ulagam 

Day one with Tamil

Vannakum to my first day in Tamil!

I spent a lot of time reading about the culture and relationships of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamil communities. The answer... it's complicated, probably more so than I can get a handle on through a bit of googling. I found this article on Tamil community relations in India and Sri Lanka and this article on Chinese and Indian influence in northern Sri Lanka very interesting.

My other task this morning was (importantly) figuring out what Tamil foods I could try locally. Mutton rolls look promising.

I then remembered about the language and did the first chapter of Routledge Colloquial Tamil. I can see why these books don't get the best reviews, you have to be pretty intrepid to pick up all the words that get thrown at you later. The word for sugar cane juice comes up in a random dialogue once and you're meant to remember it forever. Right.

This chapter taught how to introduce ourselves, pronouns, suffixes and the future conjugation for some useful verbs like eat and drink. Interesting the future tense is used to describe habitual actions. Third person pronouns and conjugations are used to be polite, so that all feels familiar although learning new endings literally sends me to sleep - I actually had to have a couple of naps during this chapter.

Written language is being introduced very gradually and in a way that's more focused on recognising words on signs than writing, so it looks like I might be illiterate in Tamil by the end of the month! Recognising the spoken verb conjugations and working out what they are is pretty hard. But oh well, it's day one....

The challenge of retaining this information and adding to it is on!

New project; languages of Croydon

"Dabbling" with other languages that aren't Spanish has always made me feel strangely guilty and dirty. It is so hard to get a language into your brain and it is so easily dislodged that focusing on anything that isn't Spanish just seems dangerous! I also had a weird hang up for a long time that having language books for languages you didn't know yet or weren't actively studying is decadent and wasteful. I don't know why... and I guess I'm cured now because buying language books is one of my favourite hobbies...

Since the lockdown started and I've been spending a lot more time in the suburb of London I live in, I have been thinking more and more about learning languages spoken by my neighbours and local communities in my area. As I have been getting more adventurous with cooking, I have been more curious than ever about the languages and cultures of the food I'm eating. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world and love my local shops that sell food from a huge variety of cultures, and I want to learn more about them. Ellen Jovin's nine year blog to learn the languages spoken in New York has inspired me a lot.

So, I've decided as long as I can keep up my Spanish, I am just going to go for it and spend a month getting to know the basics of the main languages of my town that I haven't studied before. But on top of the language I also want to educate myself about the culture, food and history associated with each of them.

Right, so what does that mean in practice? Well, the last time the UK did a census was 2011 and another is due next year, so I figure that I will arrange my schedule to try get familiar with the local languages that I don't know before the new results are in!

In 2011, the top languages spoken in Croydon after English were the following. The ones that I have never studied about are highlighted:

  1. Tamil
  2. Polish
  3. Gujarati
  4. Urdu
  5. French 
  6. Portuguese
  7. Turkish
  8. Malayalam
  9. Spanish
My plan is to spend four weeks (ish) with each until the end of the year. That's not much time and I need to keep my foot on the gas with Spanish too, so I am going to follow a very simple roadmap for language dabbling from Marco Camilo
  • Learnt to present myself
  • Follow starter grammar structures
  • Memorise the names of my most frequently used objects
  • Practice different verb forms with the objects from step 3
I also want to research and write about the history and culture, find some local restaurants that serve food from each culture, and blog about the resources I found, so it could be a busy six months.

Lastly, I'm going to play it by ear with speaking to people. I'm not sure if that is realistic after a month beyond saying thank you, and I'm not sure where I will find language partners. I assure you that I won't just be looking for people who look like they might speak the months language and accosting them...

I'm excited for this project, let's see what I can do!

Language consumerism

Language book shelf tours and text books reviews are always my favourite content on YouTube and Instagram so I decided doing a  series of posts on my own buys might help motivate me to write more about my language learning.

I am a big materialist and just love to horde language resources.

I think this is partly because my second language, Danish, is so small that there just aren't that many resources to be had. As soon as I started learning Spanish I was overwhelmed by all the different stuff you could buy - from verb wheels to magnetic words!

Language shopping is a guilty pleasure of mine. I feel bad about picking up new things but I get a lot of stuff secondhand, and when I don't I try to tell myself that it's an investment.  And sometimes I do just need to read the same grammar point explained in five ways before it makes sense.

So starting next week, I'll be sharing some of my favourite books from my main languages and some random other ones that are knocking around my language library - stay tuned!

Language spot-check: What do I already know and why?

Learning languages is a bit of an obsession for me. I find that learning a bit of a language adds so much anticipation to a trip and helps me to enjoy it so much more. Keeping the motivation up between trips when there is no sunshine but just you and a grammar book is a lot more difficult though, which is one of the reasons I started this site. 

So, this is where my languages are currently at in Spring 2019. Hopefully they’ll progress quickly! 

Danish  - Currently B2

My language history:

I have a native Danish mother and half Danish father, who can understand but speaks Danish with a strong accent. I grew up hearing the language when my mum was on the phone and when we visited relatives in Denmark but we never seriously tried to learn it at home. I think my brother and I were too lazy and the benefits of learning such a small language weren’t big enough for my mum to force us! A lot of her Danish friends’ children who we played with spoke Danish though, so I always felt a bit remedial for not being bilingual. Even more so when we went on holiday to Denmark and my poor cousins had to speak English to me!

I took action to finally learn Danish when I was 18, applying to do Scandinavian Studies with my history degree at UCL with Danish as my language focus and a year abroad at Aarhus University. It was here that I really realised how little Danish I knew! My year abroad was tough at first as I still wasn’t fluent but I came out the other end able to understand almost everything I read from context and get by in almost any tourist situation. 

My current status:

Thankfully, I learned enough Danish to never really forget and my pronunciation is fairly plausible from having listened to Danish from a young age. I’ve tried to keep up with it in the years since uni by taking holidays there on my own and very patchily reading in Danish and watching films. But, I’m not that confident with conversation and idiom and get full-on waves of anxiety about speaking Danish with family. 

My target: 

I’d like to get to the level to take the Danish mastery exam Studieprøven so that I could work in Denmark. In the shorter term I just want to be fluent enough to show my personality in Danish and not be a total chore to talk to. Practically all Danes, including my family speak English so well that if there’s any friction in the conversation at all it is easier for them to switch to English.

Spanish - A2

My language history: 

Spanish was never on my radar until I started going to the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona almost every year in 2011. Learning a bit of tourist Spanish to get by took a lot of work as I’d never studied it at school. Weirdly, I had a feeling I know some Spanish from cultural osmosis? I didn’t at all. In 2013, I got interested in learning a language and Spanish seemed the best one to start with as it is meant to be easy (haha) and I would actually be visiting a Spanish-speaking country each year. Also it’s spoken in so many countries. It was a very practical choice and at the time I’m sorry to say I didn’t have much enthusiasm for Spanish culture or visiting many Hispanic countries.

How did I study? I ordered Michel Thomas Total Spanish from Peckham library, got very excited about how easy I was finding it, started texting Spanish-speaking friends in terrible Spanish and eventually bought a notebook and a Complete Spanish text book. I did very sporadic self study for the next five years, getting a tiny bit better every summer. In 2018, I went to Mexico with a group of six friends, one of whom I think of as being amazing at languages and who I thought of as being a Spanish speaker. I found I could read and improvise at about the same level as him and that was a huge motivation booster. I signed up to two terms of class at UCL SELCS at A2/B1starting mid-Jan 2019 and bought an awful lot more books.

My current status: 

Going to class for the past 3 months (gosh) has been positive in that I’ve been speaking a lot more and actually discovered the past tenses. When I think now about what I knew when I joined I have actually made strides, I doesn’t really feel like that though and I’m not totally happy with my class. I think I need more speaking practice on Italki but so far haven’t had the nerve to go through with any lessons.

My target: 

I’d love to be fluent B2 level and be able to understand native speakers. I’m thinking about buying a Pueblo Espanol holiday this year in order to accelerate things. I also have my eye on an Instituto Cervantes DELE B1 exam in December.

Japanese - A1

My language history: 

My boyfriend took me to Japan for my birthday a few years ago and I was so incredibly excited! I bought Michel Thomas Japanese and learned enough spoken Japanese before my trip to chat to a few people and feel very accomplished indeed.  I picked it up again a few years later for another trip. I have never taken lessons and tend to feel guilty about studying it when I could be focusing on Danish or Spanish. I recently bought some more resources and started trying to learn hiragana for the first time though. I would absolutely love to be able to read Japanese materials and just engage with the culture more.

My current status: 

I’ve forgotten most things I learned in spoken Japanese apart from the basics (though I think it would revive quite quickly) and am quite sporadically learning to write hiragana at the moment. Shame I didn't do this to start with!

My target: 

Hard to say, I’m dabbling at the moment because I feel that if I seriously try to learn an asian language it should be Mandarin. On the other hand I am an awful lot more excited about Japanese and I’ve heard the Kanji can help with Mandarin? Basically I have no clear targets, this is just a fun one…


I studied German and French at school. There is a bit still in my head that I would like to revive one day but I’m not working on it at the moment.