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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brushing up on the Telugu language

Given our uniqueness as individual human beings, it's a wonder that any two persons understand each other, even when they think they are using the same language.  Still, I love language and words, new words, old words, written, spoken, flashed on a screen, loudspoken (well, maybe not so much) and quiet words.  So

I have, over the years since I had a few month's tutoring during a teaching stint in India, tried to advance my knowledge of the Telugu language, the third largest native language (spoken by about eight percent) of the Indian population, a language which is commonly spoken in Andhra Pradesh, and by about sixty nine million people, worldwide.

Every year I would learn a few more Telugu words, but, unable to follow the speed, vocabulary, and nuances, I would, just as often as not, tune out of extended conversations among family or in friendly gatherings. If I interrupted to ask for help, conversations got bogged down.  If I didn't, I lost my way in the conversation. I never got to the point of thinking in Telugu, and tuning out left me ill prepared to re-join the conversation even when it intermingled more English with the Telugu, and/or veered to topics of keen interest.  Early on, I especially appreciated my friends Rani, Lakshmi and Sundari for their alertness and kindness toward my need for survival in conversational situations, and later Sri Devi gave me a season of dedicated practice.  My husband abstained, though he somehow expected me to remember the content of Telugu language conversations at which I was physically present but, unfortunately, mentally 'absent.'  Not a good practice.

When a correspondence course began at a Potti Sriramulu Telugu University in India, I signed up with great eagerness, and not a little effort, gallantly assisted by my husband's cousin Vijay, but to no avail.  The lessons were slapped together any old which way, and I couldn't make heads or tails of anything beyond memory lists: my waterloo.  The unfinished pages languish on a shelf to this day.

Meanwhile, family conversations, friends in U.S. and India, a Telugu Christian Fellowship, hymns, and sub-titled movies continued to give me sounds and words with greater and greater clarity.  After several years of interacting with the household staff, auto-rickshaw drivers, relatives and friends, on our annual post-retirement treks to the home country, my puny efforts became more purposeful, my sentences more complete.  I read and listened and practiced with every opportunity.  Though movies aren't supposed to be that helpful in learning a new language, I watched Telugu movies until I could write the typical ill-fated-love, graphic-violence, class-clashfamily drama (in English) myself. Children's book publishing came of age in India, and I devoured elementary stories that I could understand. What would this year's travel to India reveal about my progress?

Stay tuned!

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