Learning Tamil: Vowels: Some Mnemonics I’ve Created

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English: Learning Hindi vowel through Tamil Hi...
English: Learning Hindi vowel through Tamil Hindi vowel – 2. தமிழ்: தமிழ் உயிரெழுத்து வழியாக இந்தி உயிரெழுத்தைக் கற்றல்.(ஆ=2) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my language studies, I’ve been learning the sounds and script of Tamil, a prominent tongue originating from the Indian subcontinent. Right now, I’m mastering the basic vowels, and to do this I’ve created mnemonics to assist my recall and recognition of the shape of each letter. All the better to read you, my dear!

The phrases in scare quotes are the ones I’ve come up with, and I thought here that I’d explain some of my reasoning behind them.

“Curly ‘d’ and ‘I'” : This comes from the shape of the lefthand side of the letter for the sound ‘A,’ which to me looks a lot like an elaborate lowercase letter ‘d’ the righthand side, which looks like an uppercase ‘I’ connected to the ‘d,’ with the ‘and’ supplying a clue to the pronunciation of the vowel.

“Curly ‘d,’ awesome ‘h.'” comes from the shape of the letter for ‘AA’ to lowercase Roman letters ‘d’ and ‘h,’ with ‘awesome’ showing how it’s pronounced.

That made up for the third letter, for the sound ‘I’ uses the resemblance to several numeral 6’s jumbled together, and the first English vowels of both words for pronouncing the Tamil.

The fourth letter may look obvious, but mnemonics sometimes have a little hangup: They tend to be very personal even when effective, especially when effective, and the same one may not work well for all. For this one I used the resemblance to the Roman letters ‘I’ and ‘T’ and the pair of dots shown in the letter, with ‘eats’ for the sound.

The fifth letter’s mnemonic comes from its admittedly loose resemblance to the number 2, and its first syllable for pronunciation.

Vowel six’s mnemonic comes from the pronunciation clue of the first syllable, for ‘OO’  but also from the vowel’s resemblance to the algebraic form of the expression 2 times 6 times the number pi.

Vowel 7, the letter for ‘E’ looks a lot to me like a numeral 6 joined to a letter ‘T’ with ‘end’ for the sound, and ”50s’ to form a complete logical sentence structure and make it memorable.

The vowel for ‘AY’ is similar, looking to me much like a numeral 6 joined to a lowercase ‘j’ without the dot, with ‘ate’ to aid recall of the sound and ‘worms’ tacked on to form a coherent sentence. I’m thinking of jays here in terms of birds, whether the species actually eats worms or not. The key here, as with the others, is to make these meaningful to the subject using the mnemonics, and so easy to recall.

The vowel for ‘AI’ or ‘Y’ uses an interactive image harkening to the shape of the letter, resembling to my eyes a curled-up snake getting ready to strike.

The vowels for ‘O’ resemble small winged dragons perched on an invisible tree limb, with the ‘O’ vowel slightly curling its tail and that for ‘OH’ curving it moreso.

Finally, the vowel for ‘OU’ or ‘OW’ starts with the draconic shape of the last two, but blends in toward the righthand side to what resembles the numeral 6 and the Greek letter Pi, rendered as ‘pie’ to form a silly narrative for memorability and ‘Mouse’ for the sound.

I use a similar sort of logic with all of these, using the shape of the letters in keyword mnemonics for recognition, and at least one word in the mnemonic both to make a brief story to aid memory of its sound connected to the letter itself. One thing I also did for all of these, and essential for this type of memory aid, is to make the image interactive, making the elements in it do things, instead of just being jumbled up or disconnected.

The key to keywords here is to create meaning, make connections and to form associations that best assist in learning the material. In an upcoming post, I’ll do what I did here for basic Tamil consonants.


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