How to Learn Telugu
Learning the Telugu Language Outside India
Considering that Encarta claims there are over 10 million native Telugu speakers in the world it's surprisingly difficult to learn this language on your own. Written and recorded resources are limited, and classes are almost non existent. If you are a serious student, you should look for a tutor or a language exchange with a Telugu speaker.
Much of this page is a list of resources and information I wish I'd found when I first started learning Telugu. The phrases and translations I've added should be looked at as the notes of a fellow student, not a reliable textbook. I've used Spanish language vowel and English language consonant pronunciation to spell out words phonetically. This isn't adequate. Telugu has vowels held for long and short amounts of time. I have difficulty hearing these. Generally long vowels are written in this alphabet with a double vowel. So aa is the same sound as a but held for longer. Some Telugu consonants don't exist in the English language as well. The ones between D and T are particularly hard for me to differentiate. If you are a Telugu speaker, and notice mistakes, please let me know.
Links to Telugu Learning Sites
There are quite a few more Telugu learning sites available now than there were a year or two ago. It's worth keeping an eye out for new material. This could grow in the near future.
- App Store Downloads on iTunes
Browse and download apps to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch from the App Store. The App Store has more than one million apps and games for your iOS device.
- Kidsone e-learning
This fairly recent site teaches vocabulary with sound and animation. Look under e-learning to get started.
- Language Reef Telugu
Alphabet, numbers, colors, months, days
- Telugu English Dictionary Online
- Google Books - Free E-Books on Telugu
This is a large resource only recently available. Several out of print and copyright expired books are available in full here. This includes several textbooks aimed at or written by the British in India.
- Learn Telugu search on Youtube
Content on Youtube seems to be in constant flux, so this is just a link to a basic search to get you started. You should also try searching for, "telugu kids", "telugu english subtitles"
- Wikipedia Telugu Page
This is good reading. The grammar section seems to have grown recently.
- Wiki Travel Telugu Phrasebook
Simple phrasebook focusing on phrases useful to travelers.
- Travelmasti One page phrase book
Basic words and phrases.
- Omniglot Telugu Phrases
Basics & how to say, "My hovercraft is full of eels".
- Online Telugu Converter
Convert English to Telugu text. Telugu font. Dictionary.
- Hyderbad Best - One page Phrase Book
Phrases for visitors.
- Google Translate
Now includes the Telugu language.
- Telugu Flashcards
Online flashcards of Telugu vocabulary and alphabet. Mostly uses Telugu script. Alphabets at the end.
- Quizlet Telugu Flashcards
Vocabulary flashcards mostly in phonetic English script.
Why are you learning Telugu?
Words you may already know in Telugu
The Telugu language has adopted many English words, and Telugu speakers, especially those who also know some English are fond of throwing English words into the middle of Telugu. There's a little trick to it though. Nouns frequently, but not always have either a u or lu sound added to the end. (the u is pronounced like the double oo in too). U is for singular and lu is for plural.
computer - computeru
train - railu/ railubundi
car - caru
toilet - toiletu
boots/ closed shoes - bootlu
engine - inginu
road - rodu
bank - banku
plate - platu
tea - te
coffee - cafi
Yes and No in Telugu
While yes is fairly straight forward. There are multiple words for no. Be sure to use the correct one.
yes - aaunu
It can't be - kadu
it isn't - kaleydu
I don't have - ledu
I don't want - vadu
Phrases to Ignore
Lost in translation
There are several phrases that are commonly taught first when learning a European language that don't have equivalents in Telugu.
Please, Thank You, You're Welcome
While you often see translations of these words, be aware that the translations given are usually only used in situations of extreme gratitude, or desperation. This caries over to conversations held in English in Telugu speaking areas. Please and thank you are rarely used, and you may cause embarrassment or amusement using the word thank you too much for small things like tea or food being handed to you.
Saying something to a person who sneezes is also common to European languages. There is, "sataish", which I'm told translates to roughly, "may you live for a 100 years", used only by older people responding to much younger people, but for the most part Telugu speakers don't respond to sneezes.
Question Words and Answer Words
what - emi
where - ekkada
Verb Conjugation - Present Tense
For these I've used the root verb po- meaning to go.
I go - nenu potunanu
you go- nivu potunavu
she goes - ame potundi
he goes - atadu potunadu
they go - walu/varu potunaru
we go - Manamu/memu potunamu
you all go - niru potunaru
you(formal) go - miru potunaru
they(formal) go - tamaru potunaru
Adjectives come before the word they describe the same as English.
Example: Manchi nilu
There is no modification too match the object as in latin languages, but the ending of the adjective as well as the beginning of the word it describes are often lost or changed in a conjunction. This is similar to words like it's, we're or the're in English, but they happen a lot more often in Telugu.
Understanding an English Menu in Andhra
The food items found on a typical menu in Andhra are not common in other parts of the world. The nicer restaurants in Andhra Pradesh will often have an English language menu, but you may still need a translation. This is a general overview to keep you from getting aakali while in Andhra.
Hungry - Aakali
Food - Annamu
Cooked rice - Annamu
Breakfast - Tiffin
Small meal - Tiffin
Restaurant - Hotel. Hotels may also rent rooms, but not necessarily.
Non vegetarian restaurant - Military Hotel
Dal - lentil
Idli - Steamed cake of rice and lentil flour. Not spicy.
Rava Idli - Steamed cake of wheat flour. Less common.
Dosa - Thin pancake of finely ground rice and lentil flour
Masala Dosa - Dosa with a filling, usually a potato curry.
Utthappam - Thick pancake of rice and lentil flour. The batter often has onions, chilies and peas tomatoes added to it. If you have trouble with spicy food, this is a good choice. You may be able to request it without the chilies.
Vada - Deep fried doughnut of rice and lentil flour.
Peanut chutney - Peanut, onion, and a little chili ground together. Sometimes with other spices or tamarind.
Coconut chutney - similar to peanut chutney, but with coconut.
Sambar - Toor dal curry. There are many variations. In hotels it tends to be watery with tomatoes. and a green vegetable, especially drumstick.
Gunpowder - Dry spice mix served alone or mixed with oil as an accompaniment to idly and dosa.
Drumstick- a long skinny green vegetable with a fibrous center which you chew, then remove from your mouth.
Lunch and Dinner or Supper
The standard meal is a thali plate. In traditional hotels rice and sambar may be unlimited, but you get one serving of everything else.
This generally has rice, sambar, a vegetable curry, a dal curry, a pickle a raita (yogurt or curd), and a small sweet.
Books and Recordings
These are books, a CD-Rom and DVD I've used with notes on their usefulness for learning the Telugu language.
This small book is good for the casual beginner. Don't expect to be speaking Telugu in 30 days with this book alone. It does contain useful and not very useful vocabulary lists and conjugations of verbs, but is lacking in a full explanation of grammar. While the Telugu alphabet is included most of the book gives Telugu translations using the English alphabet.
If you are a serious student looking for more than a few useful phrases to use during a short visit you should get this book. Until a recent re-print this book was very rare and selling for over $100 U.S. The organization of the book is a little awkward with chapters not building on one another, but the grammar is explained in much greater depth than I've found elsewhere. Translations are given phonetically using the Roman alphabet with some characters added for sounds unique to Telugu.
This is a classic book for the Telugu language.
This DVD is aimed at small children but should not be overlooked by adults wanting to hear the language. The DVD goes over very basic vocabulary like numbers and colors, and some animals. Most of this content is now available online.