Why study Tamil?

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

The above quote stresses the importance of learning any language including one’s own native tongue. Learning a language increases the depth of understanding of the collective thought processes, emotions, and the literary products of a culture.

If we encourage the 21st century students to learn Tamil, we are giving them an opportunity to experience “the oldest living language in the world.” In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Tamil a classical language because Tamil is based on antiquity and it has a rich and varied ancient text and original literary tradition. Today, spoken by over 90 million people around the world, it is the major language in Tamil Nadu, Singapore, and Sri Lanka and a minority language in South Africa, Malaysia, and Mauritius.

We are obligated to impart our rich cultural heritage and traditions through not only the religious rituals we practice and the customs and family values which are dear to us, but also through the study and practice of our language. Our children should take pride in our language which is thought to have been born before 500 BC as evidenced by the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions found on Adichanallur, an archaeological site in Tamil Nadu.

Though we have moved away from our native Tamil Nadu, we must help our children maintain their cultural roots and a critical means of communication with the elders in the family back home. Through the study of Tamil literature and language, our children will ably master ACTFL’s standards for language learning. In addition, the intricacies of this ancient language will increase transferable skills such as critical thinking and cultural acumen of our students.

90 Million people speak the Tamil language around the world thus having greater influence in the culture and economy. For example, Tamil Nadu has only 6% of Indian population but contributes 10% of Indian GDP.