Today we speak with Aysha Iqbal, founder of The ABCs of Tamil for Kids. We really do hope you take some time to read this interview as you will certainly gain some important insight on how to make your parenting and teaching journey a breeze when it comes to introducing Tamil to your little ones. Eli Puli is excited to share with you Aysha’s candid sharing of her experiences and journey as an entrepreneur. Do check out their useful merch – they’re providing EliPuli’s readers with a 20% off discount code through the end of April!
Tell us about your journey (Where/how did you start and how far have you come over the years?)
The ABCs of Tamil for Kids was a venture that began around 6 years ago. It all started when the fact that children really didn’t know Tamil well really hit me hard. Children were not conversing in Tamil as naturally as we did at their age. They were struggling in Primary 1 because they barely knew how to read, write, or speak in Tamil.
This reality came at me like a wave of shock and I felt that I had to do something to change this. Tamil was losing its place in our society and I, for one, was not going to sit quietly and watch that happen. This drive led to the birth of the ABCs of Tamil for Kids. Our Motto was to make Tamil as easy as ABC!
After many trials and errors, we now have created a growing series of workbooks, charts, posters, flashcards and much more. We will continue creating more to provide children with ample resources to start learning Tamil and mastering it at their own pace.
Currently our products cater to young children in Pre- Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and Lower Primary. We definitely would expand to include children in older age groups over time.
Who has been your biggest support in this journey?
My entire family and a very close group of friends have been my biggest support throughout this journey. I would not have been able to do all this and more if not for their constant support, insight, encouragement, and more. Just knowing that they are by my side helps me achieve all that I aim for and more.
It is important to have your support system when you try to make a difference, and I am blessed to have each and every one of them in my life.
What are the products that you offer now? What are their highlights?
Our current products include a range of wall charts, flashcards, and workbooks.
The 4D சிறுவர் தமிழ் flashcards is a set of 42 bilingual flashcards.
- Each card features a name in both Tamil and English.
- Children learn the names of animals, birds, fruits, vegetables, and vehicles.
- They can also scan each flashcard using their smart phone or tablet (via a free app) and the whole learning experience changes.
We decided to take the process of having fun while learning these 42 words a step further with the சிறுவர் தமிழ் activity book. This is a fun book featuring activities that are based on the words that appear on the flashcards. This is a great supplement to go along with the flashcard set.
Tamil Writing Made Easy is a workbook that aims to help children get introduced to writing every letter of the Tamil alphabet. Children can use this 90 page workbook to learn how to
- Write each letter with guidance points.
- Practice how to write them by tracing
- Master how to write them with lots of repetition.
They can use the book in their own pace, and learn how to write the letters in any order that they choose to.
We also have some educational wall posters. We have an alphabet wall chart that features all the 247 letters of the Tamil alphabet on a safe, laminated, and colourful A3 poster. We also have a set of 2 Proverb posters that feature a simple set of proverbs with meaning in both Tamil and English for children to easily understand and appreciate.
We also feature a growing set of digital printable that feature the alphabets, basic concepts like numbers, colours, weather, and much more.
What were the challenges/road blocks you faced in setting up and telling the world about ABCs of Tamil for Kids?
When I was first setting up, the main challenge was really figuring out the ins and outs of typing in Tamil. Not many people are aware of this – but there was a time when typing in Tamil, and having the words stay in the same format when opened with another computer, or by the printing company was really not a straight forward thing. A lot of “thinking out of the box” had to be done so what we create does not change in appearance when reaching the end users. I am glad to say that with a lot of practice, it has become a lot easier over the years.
The other challenges I suppose are typical challenges you face as a business owner when you try reach out to your target market via social media. Your posts do not get seen by everyone you want it to because of how quickly things change on your social media wall. Fortunately, that can be overcome and I am glad to say that our followership has improved significantly over the years.
What do you think are the general sentiments towards early childhood Tamil these days? Why is it important to build a foundation in mother tongue while in preschool rather than waiting till the Primary years?
Parents tend to feel overwhelmed at the thought of working towards teaching their children Tamil while they are in preschool. It doesn’t seem as natural as their child learning their ABCs and the English language as toddlers and young children. Tamil needs to become natural for parents and children once again. As a community, we need to remember that this language is a part of us, and we will learn it with the same ease that we do the English language. Sure, we hear more English when we step out. But we are blessed to live in a multi lingual, multicultural society, so make use of it!
It is important to build a foundation in mother tongue while in preschool for many reasons. Firstly, children learn a new language much more easily when they are younger. Having them learn the alphabets, basic words, and more when they are younger would ensure that it retains in them longer. Studies show that children are better equipped to learn and master a language when they are younger, even before they go to school.
This also makes it easier to ensure that their generation as a whole starts finding the Tamil language easy and natural, just as it should be. When they start learning Tamil in preschool, it makes it easier for them to get fluent before they enter their first Tamil class in Primary School. This makes it a better transition for them, helping them conquer the lessons at school with more ease. And hopefully, with ease comes the love and interest for the language.
Tamil vs English – What are your thoughts on how the gap can be closed in terms of the mind set of Tamil being far more difficult to teach and engage in than English at the preschool level?
The gap between Tamil and English can be closed when parents start the process of teaching their children the basics of English and Tamil at the same stage of their childhood.
When you expose them to their ABCs, do the same for அ, ஆ, இ as well. Also speak equally in both Tamil and English while being around your child. Help them see how natural both languages are, and how they play a part in your child’s everyday life.
Tamil isn’t just another subject you want them to master for school. Teaching your child Tamil isn’t just about Primary 1 Prep, or them getting good grades at school. Tamil is a language you want them to embrace because it is a part of who they are, where they come from, their heritage, identity, and family. Be sure they learn that from the beginning, so it leaves a mark in them for life.
This would erase the mind-set that Tamil is a challenge, and help parents and children alike realize that Tamil is just as easy a language to master, and is in no way more of a struggle than learning English.
Also, approaching the teaching process with bilingualism could close the gap as well. When you teach them a new word, do that in both the languages – so children see the connection. Use both appropriately, so they get to relate to them both. When children hear both languages, they do not get confused. In fact, they get a clearer idea and master two languages at once. And don’t worry – our children are all capable of doing just this and become fluent in both languages in days to come.
What advice do you have for parents who want to engage their children in Tamil at home? How can they make it fun for the whole family?
First of all, make a conscious effort to speak in Tamil while at home. I do not expect families to speak only Tamil at home – the child should hear the English language being used as well. However, make sure that you do speak a substantial amount of Tamil while in the company of your family and children. Help your child hear Tamil so much that it becomes a part of their life, and wouldn’t overwhelm them at any point of time.
Next, be sure to make use of proper resources to start teaching them Tamil at home. Start with flashcards and storybooks that you can include at play time. You should also tell some fun stories in Tamil to your children. Then you can move on to activity books and workbooks you can have them work on. This would be fun and enriching for them.
How has the landscape for preschool Tamil changed in the last 5 years?
There seems to be a huge gap that needs to be bridged to help children transition from preschool to primary school Tamil. Many children seem to be struggling with Tamil lessons in primary school, making it a bigger challenge and struggle for them. They do not seem to be equipped with the basics that are required so they can proceed on to learning what’s on the Primary One syllabus.
Fortunately, there are many learning centres that are doing a marvelous job when it comes to introducing Tamil and making it fun for children. This would help them feel less pressure when they start Tamil lessons in Primary 1. It also gives them a higher chance to feel more confident and love the language.
What do you think is still lacking in terms of support or infrastructure for the development of early childhood material for Tamil?
Parents these days are finding it a huge struggle to find any solid material to help their child get introduced to Tamil. Any little resources available do not seem to relate to the child, making it strange for them to get engaged with.
This is the problem The ABCs of Tamil for Kids is striving to solve with our line of products. We have started creating our own material with these children in mind. We sure hope to reduce this shortage of material, toys, and other resources that would help parents guide their child when it comes to learning Tamil.
Also, as mentioned before, Tamil isn’t as widely and naturally used as it used to be in the yester years. Adults themselves find themselves conversing naturally in English and needing to make an effort to do the same in Tamil. If parents themselves don’t find Tamil natural, how can children find it normal?
One reason behind this could be the fact that less children have grandparents who NEED Tamil to communicate. Grandparents of today are more educated than their predecessors. We grew up with at least a basic need to speak in Tamil – so we can talk to our grandparents.
While it is fortunate that most of our children do not have that compulsory need, this also led to less Tamil being used to talk at home. This has sadly resulted in families not being exposed to Tamil in a consistent manner. We should change that and even take the effort needed to make Tamil natural for our children like it was for us.
It is time for us to create the support and infrastructure needed to bring Tamil back to life in our children’s lives. As the adults, we can do our part to change that. We need to take the extra effort to make Tamil natural and normal in Singapore for generations to come.
Do you have a dream project that you hope to bring to children?
I have always dreamt of creating my own Tamil bilingual animated series for children to enjoy on television. I am sure a cartoon series that they find fun and engaging would be really cool. I sure hope that this dream becomes a reality someday soon.
How/where can our readers find you and your products?
You can find me and our products at our website (http://www.tamil-for-kids.com). We are also on Facebook and Instagram (@tamilforkids). All our products can be purchased online and would be delivered to you.
I sure hope that you are enjoying the Tamil Language Festival as much as we have been. I thank The EliPuli for including us in their celebrations and to all the readers for reading this interview.
All images are the property of ABCs of Tamil for Kids