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How to Learn Telugu

Updated on July 11, 2017

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.

Question?

Why are you learning Telugu?

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Words you may already know in Telugu

Cognates

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.

Bless 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

this- Idi

that-adi

where - ekkada

here- ikeda

there-akkada

when-eppudu

now-ipudu

then-appudu

how-ela

like this-ila

like that-ala

how much-enta

this much-inta

that much-anta

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

Adjectives come before the word they describe the same as English.

Example: Manchi nilu

Manchi=good nilu=water

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.

Food Words

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.

Learn Telugu in 30 Days Through English (Language)
Learn Telugu in 30 Days Through English (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.

 
Spoken Telugu: Book I, Units 1-30 (Telugu Edition)
Spoken Telugu: Book I, Units 1-30 (Telugu Edition)

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.

 
English to Telugu Dictionary
English to Telugu Dictionary

This is a classic book for the Telugu language.

 
Exploring Telugu - Kids Learn Telugu
Exploring Telugu - Kids Learn Telugu

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.

 

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    • profile image

      Wayne 2 years ago

      Also, if anyone wants help getting started on alphabet / pronunciation, there is a free iPad app called "TeluguSlate." It doesn't explain how to draw conjunct consonants (a major drawback), but it does cover the main letters and give you audio aid for pronunciation. (It also uses pictures to teach words instead of English equivalents, which is way better for learning to "think" in the language).

    • profile image

      Wayne 2 years ago

      I stumbled across this while web-searching. I am an American who is presently attempting to learn Telugu. (I'm a bit of a language enthusiast, and I have spent some time with friends in Andhra / Telangana).

      In my opinion, people trying to learn this language should just go ahead and learn how to read the script as well. It can be frustrating to get started with (so many letters look so much alike!), but with regular daily practice, reading the script will become second nature fairly quickly. Reading the script helps you to be able to read the literature (which is a good way to learn and acquire vocabulary), and it is super helpful for figuring out a word's pronunciation, once you understand the rules. If you are ever planning to go to the Telugu speaking regions, knowing how to read this script is a huge lifesaver.

      If you have not yet consulted it, a book that needs to be included in your list is "An Intensive Course in Telugu," by Parimi Ramanarasimham. I've tried several Telugu grammars, but this one seems to be the most helpful and exhaustive in its explanations of the rules. Additionally, in my conversations with native speakers, the information that I gained from this book has required far less correction from them than "Telugu in 30 days" (which is dated and frequently doesn't explain things well). If you are serious about learning Telugu, I highly recommend it. (I think you can find a couple of chapters for free online somewhere. Google it and check it out!)

    • profile image

      phoenix1491 4 years ago

      Thanks it was helpful!

      Hope someday I would watch my favourite telugu movies without english subtitles.

      PS :Subtitles are irritating

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: hi...if any doubts in telugu approach me. I can teach you telugu. I am a native speaker in telugu.I know telugu and english.

    • Pondripples profile image
      Author

      Pondripples 4 years ago

      @anonymous: I think the closest is http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/gwynn/ .

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      As a person who cannot read/write Telugu script, what tools do I have to understand the meaning of a specific work. I speak Telugu very fluently, but every once in a while I encounter words that I don't know. Is there a website that I can enter a Telugu word in english and get the meaning in English

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @Pondripples: Thanks == Dhanyavaadamu [ ధనà±à°¯à°µà°¾à°¦à°®à± ] or its plural can be used in a formal situation, but you'd be hard pressed to find some one that doesn't understand "thanks" and "thank you". Most might respond with a smile and "yuvar velkam" and a funny nod of the head.

      when some one sneezes, you run away. if you are slow or want to show some concern, make eye contact and express it with your face. if you are older than the sneezer, you can bless with "chiranjeeva" [ à°à°¿à°°à°à°à±à°µ ] implying you want the sneezer to be eternal.[ hopefully without the sneezing] or be more pragmatic and bless them with what you think will be a long life :). Just curious why are you learning Telugu? are you still learning? I could help if you want help.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      eee source bagaa unnayii .....:-)

    • Ahdilarum profile image

      Ahdilarum 5 years ago

      Nice coaching for learning basic Telugu. Chaala baghundhi.

    • Pondripples profile image
      Author

      Pondripples 5 years ago

      @madoc: Not being a native speaker, I don't think I have a full understanding of this. I'm told it's mostly a cultural thing. To a degree the idea that each person should do what's required without being asked is there. The language does have formal and informal forms of address, and there is quite a bit more emphasis placed on showing deference than you would generally encounter in English speaking Americans. I have to say that once I realized the lack of please and thank you, it explained a lot about misunderstandings between Americans and natives of India.

    • madoc profile image

      madoc 5 years ago

      Not having please and thank you seems very strange - is there some other way of expressing gratitude and desire, or is it something in body language, or just a cultural expectation i.e. people do things without being asked, so please/thankyou are simply not required?

    • profile image

      vinay2080 5 years ago

      Informative lens with helpful telugu learning resources.

      http://freetelugucomedyclips.blogspot.com/

    • profile image

      RealPolish 6 years ago

      Inetersting lesson :) thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      ela undhi naa commentoo..