Problems for Sri Lankan Tamils learning EnglishFor Sri Lankan Tamils learning the english
language there a various difficulties, which I am going to discuss in this article.
First of all they need to learn a whole new alphabet – including capital letters (a concept which is foreign to the Tamil language). Having learnt how to write and read individual letters the students will soon find out, that letters and groups of letters can be used to indicate very different sounds.
Jerome, a young Tamil man from Sri Lanka told me that till today he is often wondering about the connection of spelling and pronunciation in the english
language. This might be a more general problem though. Students worldwide agree that spelling is one of the great challenges in the process of learning english
More specifically Tamils have difficulties with pronouncing certain sounds because their do not exist in their native language. I have often heard Tamils drop the “h” sound or even substitute it with a “k” sound: “Kello! Kow are you?” For some reason Tamils also tend to confuse “p” and “f” (which does not exist in their own language): “You are mine - porever”. Jerome also noted that he thought it was quite confusing: First he had to learn to differ between “p” and “f” and then he learned the “ph” was pronounced like an “f”. In a similar way Tamils often confuse and “w” and “v”: “I lowe you” and “It’s not allaaved” for “I love you” and “It’s not allowed” are common mistakes. ….Strong “th” sound as an explosive sound.
Besides that Tamil learners often stress the first syllable of words like: “address”, “cassette”, “dessert”, “museum”, “hotel”, “maintain”, “translate”, “hello”, “unless”, “mature” and so on.
Another big challenge is the area of grammar. Everything seems to be just the other way around. “Indrakki naan marketle poreen. = Today I market-to go.” Is the Tamil word order for the sentence “Today I go to the market.”
Tamil students also often struggle with the -ing form. They tend to either use the simple present, because it seems much more convenient and the difference in their native language is not significant. Other use the –ing form but drop the “be”. “I going to the museum.”
Another typical mistake is the general tag question “isn’t it?” and “no?”. “He is going to the supermarket, isn’t it?” or “He is going to the supermarket, no?” instead of “isn’t he?” is commonly used in Sri Lanka, as it resembles the Tamil tag question “illeya?”.
Another example is the omission of the definite article: "Let's go to cinema" instead of "Let's go to the cinema". Again this is because of the Tamil grammar where there is no definite article.
Tamil learners also tend to drop the verb “be” in short sentences. “Inda saapaadu romba nallam = This food very good” they say in their native tongue.
Another concept that is foreign to Tamil students is comparison: “cheap
, cheaper, cheapest”. As native english
speakers would say “It is cheaper to go by bus than to go by taxi” Tamils would usually say “You can go by taxi or by bus, but it is cheap to go by bus”.
Besides that some words are often used with a different meaning, e.g. the verb 'keep' is sometimes used in the same sense as 'put' or 'place'. Many Sri Lankans would say “Keep it on the table.” instead of “Put it on the table.”
All of these common mistakes and difficulties need proper care and correction. The teacher should take enough time to help the students develop good handwriting, pronunciation, spelling skills, grammar and a proper use of vocabularies.
Sources: Interview with Jerome Rasiah, observations during my stay in Sri Lanka in 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_English (June 7th 2012)