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Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Friday, August 20, 2010

Are you trying to learn another language? Are you getting frustrated? What are your frustrations and what strategies have you used to overcome your frustrations?

Click into learn what challenges I had in learning Tamil in India and what strategies I used to overcome the challenges. I hope my experiences can help you! Click into listen to my podcasts.

These podcasts have partial transcripts below. Look to the end for photos from my time in India.

Hi Everyone! I am Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys! Hope you’re having a great day!
I would like to tell you a little story about learning another language from my personal experience.
When I moved to Chennai, India I already knew a little Tamil. My friends in USA from India had taught me some words and basic phrases. I could also read and write a little. Reading and writing is helpful, but not so much as speaking. This is true in learning any language in my opinion, because in order to be understood in everyday situations we should be able to talk to others in the language- it’s more practical. Anyhow, my friends taught me Tamil phrases and I could hold simple, basic conversations with them. I thought I was ready to take on Chennai with this!! Boy, was I wrong!
I believed since my Indian friends in US who taught me Tamil could understand me talk in Tamil that locals in Chennai would, too. I quickly realized I was not being understood because my ‘accent’ was completely off.
From my experience, I think accent problems stem from a few sources:

1. Incorrectly forming isolated sounds.
I was under the assumption that the sounds I heard others say I was too. My mind tricked my ears into believing what I was saying was being pronounced just like the locals! Some people who had time and patience tried to help me refine the sounds through the technique of mimicry. This mimicry involved them saying the sounds or saying words with those sounds and having me repeat it to them. This technique did not involve them teaching me exactly how to make these sounds- where to put the lips, tongue, teeth, etc. I guess if I could have trained my mouth and sound making “equipment” to make the sounds properly, my ears could get better trained to hear the sounds I was making to refine them better. That all being said, mimicry did not work wonders for me; increasing my frustration and decreasing my self-esteem.

2. Transferring the pitch, tone, speed and ‘musical qualities’ of English into speaking Tamil.
When we learn another language we often still think in our native language, translate back and forth, and talk in a foreign language with the same speed, tonal qualities and intonation that we would use in our native language. If we speak that foreign language among our ‘own people’ in our native country we are understood. However, when we talk to native speakers of that foreign language in their native countries, we soon realize that learning to speak a language and learning to be understood are different concepts altogether! We realize talking in the foreign language as we talk in our native language is not always possible for clear understanding. Also, when listening to locals, we come to realize that their ways of speaking are not what we expected or what we can mimic initially.
I should append this by saying this problem occurs even if the language of the other country is our native language there are difference we have to learn to be understood better. I had this problem talking English in Chennai. Though English is my native language, American English from New York State is a different English than the English spoken in Chennai!

Photo slide show of my life, studies and social work in India

Keep tuned in - Next Week, August 27, 2010 I will post part 2.

Thank you for spending time on my website. Have a great day!

Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural teacher, trainer and lifestyle adjustment mentor helping people feel more comfortable in cultures far from home. Are you worried about making friends, adjusting to a new job, raising children, conversing in a new language or everyday lifestyle changes when moving to a new country? She can help you explore these topics and more before you leave or after you arrive. She was educated in India as a social worker and in America as a life coach. Feel free to see her website - Authentic Journeys - Lifestyle and Cultural Transition Services.

Copyright ©2010 Jennifer Kumar, LMSW Cultural Adjustment Coach/Mentor


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