MetaCognitions | Language Hangups


Last evening’s Tamil language podcast listening was productive, and vastly more satisfying progress-wise once I got myself into the right headspace to immerse myself and process the dialogue and interviews.

Setup for that takes me about 15-20 minutes of quiet thought, and at the very least a full hour of immersion, whether to speak, read, write, or listen in any language I’m studying. I should work up to an entire day of immersion when family is away for extended periods.

There’s a bit of performance anxiety in that, stemming from previous study of both Japanese and Pilipino, the former in the early 90s and the latter just before the early 2000s.

Both taught me a lot, but in both cases I was not…well…at either time, and was to my eternal regret a bit of an idiot as a student even in my late 20s.

Without getting into personal details or drama, my experiences of both left me with a difficulty in switching between English and other languages quickly or in a public context, especially for interviews or social media posting, and dreading again making an idiot of myself as a learner, this time on the Internet for all to see.

There’s also a lack of patience on my part, as I must remind myself that even in formal study it takes several whole semesters for anybody to make progress at my age in any non-native language, even with an instructor and fellow students to interact with for feedback.

Hindi, Tamil, and Bangla are not easy languages to begin with, especially for non-native speakers like me!

All of my study to-date on the current languages, ALL of it, has been informal, but still marked by progress over time, even with my biases and impatience getting in the way of seeing that.

It helps to take, even in a passing moment of introspection, and actually immersing myself in the damn languages instead of whining, a long view, to see the forests of India’s Big Three languages over time for the trees of any given study period.

Maybe I’ll always be somewhat anxious about being the village idiot of students, but maybe too I can avoid that outcome, to keep up the long game toward what level of mastery I can achieve.

At my age, I’ll probably never reach native fluency in any of them, but that’s cool. I’m not trying to pass as a native speaker anyway, not perfect fluency, only to broaden my horizons and reduce my ignorance of the rest of humanity elsewhere in some small way, however imperfectly.

And d’you know what? I think that’s good enough.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Lost in Translation | Tamil Consonant Mnemonics 2


Vengeeswarar temple at vadapalani chennai.

Vengeeswarar temple at vadapalani chennai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, with this post, I conclude my initial study for last month’s remaining Tamil pure consonants; the lateral sounds, the fricatives, the glides, and the Grantha letters for those sounds and words borrowed from Sanskrit.

The mnemonic, like last time’s, is a story heavy with cues to the shapes and sounds of the letters they relate to. It will sound silly, not to poke fun at the language, but to help memorization. Here it is, and I explain my somewhat tortured reasoning afterward:

Six lurking ewes leaped¹ six meters at a troll with a skull², as its rage³ was mad, made to fear⁴. Laboring drudgingly, jesters emerged and zhooshed⁵ up the King in Yellow’s palace⁶, before he chose twenty-one of them to vote on war⁷ against the jealous cobras⁸. Jumping in, twenty-nine of these shredded⁹ the choicest of their very naive servants¹⁰, while sixty-two of the many hordes¹¹ of functional T-629 Terminators¹² left maneuvers against orders and were dismantled, shrieking terribly¹³.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 23.51.06

1. Six(for the numeral) and ewes(a pun on the Roman letter u) describe the shape of the letter, while lurking and leaped suggests the Tamil letter’s sound. Besides, evil or even mildly sinister female sheep can be scary if you’re a troll.

2. Six(as above) and meters(using the letters m, t, and r as a mnemonic code for the numbers 3, 1, and 4, the first three digits of Pi) are cues to the shape of the Tamil letter, while troll and skull hint at the letter’s sound as per its type.

3. Its suggests the Roman letters I and T, and with the pulli, the shape of the Tamil letter. The r in rage is a cue to the letter’s sound in the vernacular.

4. Mad and made are repeated letter shape cues, to the letter’s very rough resemblance to a Roman letter m. The r at the end of fear is a sound cue, properly trilled, or rolled, of course.

5. Laboring, drudgingly, and jesters are cues to the Roman letters L, D, and J, which when combined, suggest the Tamil letter’s shape minus the pulli. The r in emerged and the zh in zhooshed (Yes, that’s a real word in English. It means to make something more exciting, lively, or attractive.) are sound cues.

6. Up combines the resemblance of the left half of the letter to a Roman u and the resemblance of the right half to a Tamil letter ப், pronounced p or b. Yellow suggests the glide sound y, while King and palace are simply filler to add coherence, plus a little Cthulhu Mythos reference thrown in for good measure. After all, what’s the King in Yellow without his haunted palace in Carcosa?

7. Chose is partly mnemonic code for the numeral six, and with twenty-one, serves to suggest the letter’s vague resemblance to the number 621. Vote and war are cues to the glide sounds v and w represented by the letter.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 23.51.47

8. Jealous is a cue for the letter’s sound, j, cobra suggests its shape, to me evoking the image of a snake preparing to strike.

9. Jumping is a cue to the number six as well, and with twenty-nine suggests the letter’s shape, the number 629. The sh in shredded suggests the sound of the consonant.

10. Choicest and naive are codes to letter shape, the numeral six and a curvy, ornate Roman letter N while the s in servants suggests the letter’s sound.

11. Sixty-two and many are recognition cues, the letter resembling the number 62 followed by a letter m with an understroke. The h in hordes suggests the letter’s sound, as well as fitting the narrative and aiding recall.

12. The 4th-6th letters in functional are an obvious clue to pronunciation for English speakers, and T-629 suggests the shape of the letter, in a way that’s intuitive to a Westerner like me – very early model Terminators never shown in the movie franchise, likely prior to da Ah-nold himself – as far as a superficial and suggestive similarity to the Roman letter T hyphenated with the number 629 is concerned.

13. Left, maneuvers, and terribly suggest a resemblance, very sketchy but close enough, to the letters L, M, and T squashed together, minus the understroke and the dependent vowel sign, and the shri in shrieking a clue, but not a fully accurate representation of the sound, but close enough to remember.

This was fun, and provided a lot of opportunity in tweaking the mnemonics. This month I resume fuller study of Hindi, with recall practice of Tamil, Bengali, and other subjects to be conducted as well.

Stay cool, stay brilliant.

Lost in Translation | Tamil Consonant Mnemonics I


I came up with this while on study break, a silly but idiosyncratically memorable story that contains recall and recognition cues for two groups of Tamil consonants, the stop consonants, the nasal consonants, and thirdly, the velar fricative akkēnā lying somewhere between vowel and consonant.

As with this series’ previous post, no disrespect toward the Tamil language or its speakers is intended. The silliness of the story is an aid to memorization, not an attempt at satire.

I’ll also explain my rationales for choosing the cues I did for each part of the mnemonic narrative, to lay out how easy it is to come up with a set of memory cues that work perfectly well at least for oneself. We tend to individually give our mnemonics meaning to make them effective, and that meaning may not translate to the preferences and quirks for others, as we all have different brains and different information in those brains.

Here goes:

 “While I baked a 91 kilogram cake¹, I was chased by a school of flying sea jellies² who smote a fruit-bat by dropping logs³ on it. Elsewhere, a tadpole drank tii with much adu⁴. But he never stopped the remaining poor bats in a box⁵ from angering 15 kings⁶ who for the 16th time outmaneuvered⁷ a 600 tonne giant⁸. It, the giant, then thought to send⁹ regards to 60 of the newbies¹⁰whose mega-large diamonds¹¹ where not a hoax and therefore not fake¹².”

Here’s the breakdown:

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1. I used the words bake and cake to show the k sound the letter represents, the number 91 to indicate the general shape of the letter, minus its central stem, if it were to be rotated to the left by ninety degrees, the k and g of kilogram as a reminder of the letter’s sound in general usage.

2. I used the ch in chase to indicate the general sound of the letter, with the f and j in flying sea jellies to reflect my perception of the letter’s shape. The s in sea is used as a reminder of the occasional pronunciation when the letter is in the word initial position.

3. The words smote and fruit-bat indicate the retroflex t sound at the end of each at play, the word logs used as a cue for the shape of the letter, a lengthened  Roman letter L with the pulli or dot just above it in the Tamil consonant’s pure form.

4. The use of tadpole here is a cue to the letter’s resembling in outline a newly hatched tadpole, while tii and adu are both romanized transcriptions of the Tamil words for tea and it, but double-mnemonics in reminding of the sounds of the letter they help cue for.

5. Poor and bats are both used as cues for letter sounds p and b, less aspirated in Tamil than in English, while box is a cue to the letter’s shape minus its pulli.

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 19.22.05

6. The 2nd and 3rd ng in angering and kings are both used as cues to the sound of the letter, while 15 is given as a cue to its resemblance to that very number written in digits.

7. 16th is also a cue to letter shape while outmaneuvered is a cue to the sound of the letter.

8. 600 tonne is a cue to both letter shape, resembling the number 600 + letter T, and tonne also indicates the way the n sound is pronounced. The giant part was just a little extra to help memorization by fitting things together.

9. The first words, It, and then are cues to letter shape, while the nd in send is a reminder of the presence of this letter solely in consonant clusters.

10. This letter slightly resembles a number 60 + letter T, and newbies is used as a cue to pronunciation of the n sound.

11. Mega here indicates the m sound, while the phrase large diamonds are cues to the letter’s resemblance to a Roman capital L and D.

12. The h in hoax and f in fake are used to cue for pronunciation in different uses as indicated above, while therefore is used to indicate the letter’s resemblance to a common notation in symbolic logic () for the words Therefore or Thus.

In coming up with these, one must use what one knows, and often the easiest memory cues will be things that no one else has thought of. These are just a few of the consonants of this rich and ancient language. In future installments, I’ll explore mnemonics for other consonants and full syllables as well. See you then!