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New course gives Chinese a taste of Tamil language, culture

“All our language teaching is integrated with culture teaching. If I teach them about beauty, I won’t pick a random picture but I will pick one of Surya or If I teach them about beauty, I won’t pick a random picture but I will pick one of Surya or Rajinikanth and talk to them about the films they were in,” says Zhou, known by her Tamil name Eswari, when she is teaching at the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).
Learning about Tamil culture, or more broadly about India, is reserved for an hour on Wednesday afternoons. For instance, last week the students watched the Oscar-winning documentary Period.End of Sentence. For the rest of the 11 hours each week, it is a challenging task to get ten enthusiastic 18-year-olds to twist their tongues in ways that will produce uniquely Tamil syllables.
Advertising Zhou played Jayanthi, her colleague V Kalathi, a native Tamil speaker from Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu, played Suresh. “I write and record the audio and Kalathi helps me correct it,” she says.Since there is a dearth of material on Tamil in China, including in the National Library, Zhou seeks out material from off the internet. “The textbooks for native speakers may not be culturally very suitable since they start from the very basics — Amma, Appa — which my students will never really use here,” she says.She still relies on a few conversational Tamil books.The students learn from the greatest Tamil works instead: from Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural, a classic Tamil text comprising thousands of couplets, Subramania Bharati’s poems and lines from Sangam literature.Three times a week, Zhou teaches them Tamil texts. Kalathi complements this with spoken Tamil on alternative days.

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