Teaching Telugu to kids: Simplify – Part I

with 4 comments

Continuing from  post on Why This Kolaveri di

 Telugu: Italian of the East

A European described Telugu as Italian of the east. It is so because it ends words with vowels like Italian language does and vowels allow smoother landing of musical notes and make them soothing to hear compared to words that end with consonants. It is not unique to Telugu. This is likely to be same with other languages in India such as Hindi, Gujarati, and others as they all have borrowed words and concepts from Sanskrit and vice versa.

Telugu provides tools for authors to decorate words so they are suitable for vocal use in ear friendly way. Most of the South Indian Carnatic music is composed in Telugu because of this facility in the language. The language allows composers to specify nasal or other sounds were required. It is like how Western classical music scripts of Beethoven, Mozart etc specify major or minor keys using alphabet specifically designed for that. The sound related elements of the Telugu /Sanskrit are called Sabda (sound) Alankaras (decoration). 

In a way Sanskrit and the languages such as Telugu that borrowed quite a bit from Sanskrit are unique in that they combine music required elements into the language alphabet and grammar. Perhaps all Indian languages that support vowel ending should be called Italian of the East.

May be the European was not aware of the other Indian languages or was inspired by some original works in Telugu that are so melodious that he choose to call out Telugu specifically.  

Teaching and Grading in Schools 

Telugu that is taught in schools is too tough for kids to learn. Not only that, Kids who under take Telugu as language choice  in High schools are penalized by teachers who are old-fashioned in their outlook. They may not have the bigger picture and in many cases may be naive. They may need help in getting to think in broader context and see the benefits of being liberal. 

Students taking Sanskrit or French as second language because it is easy to score (e.g 90 %+) compared to scoring in Telugu. Getting 70% is a big accomplishment in Telugu.    Many young students are turning away from learning Telugu to other languages such as Sanskrit or French. This is likely the case with Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and other languages. All these old languages may need help to be relevant to kids.

Instead of teaching complicated Telugu grammar and syllabus why not use simpler approach?  Institutions like Manabadi, which has good intent of teaching Telugu language to Telugu kids in USA, should spruce up and spice up the curriculum so it is less boring and instead is interesting, exciting, and fun to learn.

Perhaps remove or cut down on things like Satakams and other esoteric stuff from the books. Remove teaching of Chandas, the rules used by Telugu writers in poetry and other styles of writing, from the curriculum of lower grades. How many of the students are going to write poetry conforming to chandas?  

Live in current times

We should bring works of new poets and writers of last 10 years and balance old classical works with new works. Otherwise, 400 years from now someone will be reading about Atreya or Sri Sri or C Narayana Reddy because their works are so old they are very valuable as teaching aids.  If we do then we are always behind 400 years. We need to stop doing that. We need to live in current times and stop living and re-living the past. Particularly Sanskrit coy works between 11-18AD period must be avoided as there seem to be many historical wrongs and in how we are presenting the facts.  

Perhaps include songs from popular movies as part of teaching Telugu for fun, excitement and relevancy. How many kids can relate to Paarijaata apaharanam that happened in mythology 5000 years ago when Vyaas wrote Mahabharata as pure fiction.

The kids can more easily relate to for example Dheera Dheera song from Magadheera, a huge hit. Use newer songs each year and update the curriculum content to keep it fresh and relevant.

Also, mix classic accha Telugu devotional songs like Emi setura linga, Brochevaarevaruraa and others from composers such as Annamacharya, Thyagaraja. These works use accha Telugu words and should be simple for kids to understand and appreciate. 

Language Teaching Goals:  Alphabet and Vocabulary

Language teaching should not be used as tools to teach history or culture. Its primary goal should be just the language elements- alphabet, vocabulary and sentence construction, writing, and such. 

To aid in teaching the language elements curriculum can use stories and works that already exist and in particular ones that are popular or folklore as well as ones that are recent.   When using old works it is important to adopt and mix it in a way that students can relate to it.  Careful balance must be stuck in terms of how much old work is used and how far it goes back. 

Adoption, mixing and presenting in a way that kids can receive is important like what Dhanush did.

Works of Annama Charya or Sri Sri, Thyagaraja or even atheic works that focus on social issues are good to use as part of the value theme. For example,  ose ramulamma is an extremely good song illustrating the flight of girls in conservative society and could be good content to use to teach value system and social issues and at the same introduce so many words. It also shows how easy to compose sentence and song using words spoken around dining table or living rooms.

Do Telugu stage plays use Telugu?

Dhanush’s style adoption and mixing will make a  big difference to language and culture advancement than shunning. Such attempt if done long time ago, wouldn’t have my daughter who was sitting with me watching  ‘Bhuvana Vijayam’ stage act at TANA 2011 ask me:  ‘Daddy, are these guys performing on the stage speaking Telugu?’ I couldn’t answer with a ‘Yes’ unfortunately. Because they were singing some Sanskrit poems which I myself didn’t understand.

Telugu Language Historical Wrongs

The first version of Telugu grammar was written in Sanskrit by Nannaya around 11 century AD based on Panini’s equivalent work in Sanskrit.  But why write Telugu grammar in Sanskrit? 

It appears Nannaya and many other Andhra and Karnataka scholars of 11-15 AD could de-classified as Telugu or Kannada writers if their claim to fame is conversion of Sanskrit classics such as Mahabaratam, Puranams or Panini’s Sanskrit grammar into Kannada and Telugu using Telugu script and suffixing each Sanskrit word in Dhanush’s style. Instead, they should be classified as 5-star transcribers and well-educated Sanskrit scholars and awarded credit accordingly.


Written by ellanti

December 5, 2011 at 2:37 am

4 Responses

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  1. The first padyam in Telugu(?) written by Nannaya in his Aadi Kavyam goes like this:
    రాజకులైక భూషణుడు, రాజ మనోహరుడన్యరాజ తే
    జోజయశాలి శౌర్యుడు, విశుద్ధ యశశ్శరదిందు చంద్రికా
    రాజిత సర్వలోకు డపరాజిత భూరి భుజా కృపాణ ధా
    రా జలశాంత శాత్రవ పరాగుడు రాజమహేంద్రుడున్నతిన్
    If you remove the డు, ము, వు from this the rest is all Sanskrit. Just like English language is the de-facto standard now and any thing English is the way to go, Sanskrit was the prevailing language in those days. He wanted to put Telugu, and the works-in-Telugu on the same pedestal as Sanskrit. Hence he brought in all the successful (popular things in those days) concepts from Sanskit such as Grammar, Chandassu, Alankaralu etc into Telugu. I do not want to go into debate whether that was good or bad for Telugu. I do appreciate the view points on both sides though.

    Suresh Kaja

    December 9, 2011 at 12:29 am

    • I agree. this seems a Sanskrit import. What could be a true first Telugu poem ? Who could have that honors? Will be interesting to find out.

      Sanskrit is a good language. For many who lived in Andhra/Karnataka and who didn’t know Devanagari script, what Nannaya and others did was helpful – bringing Sanskrit works in a script that they could read on. It is like Hanuman chalisa or Aarti written in Telugu script.


      December 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

  2. Manohar gAru, Great post. I like the perspectives presented and its very important to make those connections with the kids while they are learning something new. I would like to comment this from ManaBadi point of view being part of the ManaBadi curriculum team. These are my personal views only.

    The idea and ideals are ManaBadi are the similar, that is to teach Telugu in a “complete” way. And fun is definitely in the ఉపాధ్యాయుల శైలి. We encourage fun filled methods and orient all the new teachers to adapt that kind of style.
    As the writer mentioned, we are taking steps to revamp the 4-year course content to include more relevant stuff.

    1. I beg to differ on the perspective that we don’t need to teach grammar. Its a must for proper learning of any language. It’s how we teach them that matters. We are fine tuning the approaches with the partnership with linguists and scholars.
    2. Songs and padyaalu of Devulapalli, Sree Sree, Indraganti, Sankarambadi, Karunasree etc. are invariably part of ManaBadi curriculum.
    3. Learning about Telugu places and pramukhulu is part of the curriculum already.
    4. ManaBadi intentionally stays away from movies and religion and let the learning from the school help the kids enjoy the movie songs better. If we teach the curriculum that we organized really well, kids will get the movie things easily. Movie and religion stuff is already on the overdose all over the place.
    5. Satakams is a must, helps kids with uccaraNa and dhAraNa. These satakams have life, ageless relevance and great cultural connection. We pick those padyaalu carefully and kids get them easily.
    6. Making it relevant should not mean cut-out links to our cultural heritage. We will probably teach (actually we don’t teach, we simply give a small taste bite) parijaatha paharanam and others in advanced levels as we go forward. When kids learn English there is always emphasis on Dickens, Shakesphere, Tolstoy, Keats etc. Somethings are timeless and if we don’t take steps to introduce them to our next generation, we don’t do justice. Bhagavatam, Bharatam and Ramaayanam are epics and can be re-told to the new generation. Its unfortunate that there is nothing else that emanated in Telugu literary field that has similar scale and magnifiscience, even after 1000s of years.

    ManaBadi focuses on teaching Telugu language in its ‘entirety’, without compromise, at the highest quality possible with absolute focus and balance on the three-legged stool reading-writing-speaking. We are at the first generation of its curriculum, we take 360 feedback and put it through a process of continuous improvement. As we mature and progress, I am sure things will get better.
    What we have noticed is that kids are able to embrace the approach and concept as they have no frame of reference for relative comparision, its the parents that are pushing back on learning few concepts and items, say for example a padyam from Paarijaathapaharanam. It may that “what do we ‘get'” attitude is very prevalant in approaching. Sometimes we may not “get” something as a benefit but a pure joy in the heart.

    Having said all that, all feedback is very very important and its accepted with glee.


    December 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    • Thanks for the detailed comments and your views on Manabadi program and goals.

      I do appreciate the volunteer and self-less work of many teachers @ Manabadi. It takes dedication and faith to do it. I was awe stuck when I read the story of Chaitanya, a Bengali saint of 14th century. He worked for what he believed in (Krishna) and spread that through Bengal, Orissa, Andhra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and other parts of India during his life time. If a person believes in something and carries through his belief that is something to praise for.

      Some of Manabadi teachers have Chaitanya like commitment (perhaps coming from their family blood). All of you probably say it to yourself: ‘I have to do it; it is my duty to teach’. Only such dedication could have carried, in the absence of printing press, Panini’s and other classical works just through oral teaching tradition and passed from one generation to another for 5000 years.

      Please see Part II for response on some of your points plus more.

      Hope this helps. Keep up the good work @Manabadi.


      December 10, 2011 at 5:58 am

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