With the available input tools and online resources, one can easily write documents in Tamil. Karthik Subramanian shares his personal experience

Like several people I know, I’m always anxious about writing in Tamil. I can trace it to my school days, when I have been made to feel humiliated over spelling and other mistakes. In a way, this anxiety is probably what those schooled in the Tamil medium feel when asked to write in English.

But in the past two months, I have discovered online tools, have spoken at length to people who write and edit Tamil articles, and had insightful discussions with Tamil software developers on their efforts at enabling users to type in Tamil on desktop computers and mobile devices.

I have just published my first article in the Tamil newspaper published by The Hindu group of publications. Here is how I overcame my anxiety and here are the tools that enabled me to do so.

Input tools

Some of the biggest advances with regard to Tamil input technologies have been happening in recent months. My first tryst with Tamil input tools was in September when Apple's latest mobile operating system iOS 7 integrated two Tamil keyboard layouts — the phonetic layout ‘Anjal’ and the Tamil keypad layout ‘Tamil99’ — to enable users to type and send messages in Tamil.

After I reported this for The Hindu, I started sending out SMSs, Tweets and Facebook status messages in Tamil. While using the ‘Tamil99’ layout, I was able to form Tamil words from the alphabet. This largely addressed my fears over spelling mistakes. For the first few days, I just started framing simple and straightforward messages.

The ‘Tamil99’ and ‘Anjal’ keyboard layouts have been available for Android mobile devices for some time now. I had downloaded version 1 of ‘Sellinam’ software on my Nexus 7.0 device and tried it out. But initially, when it was a stand-alone App, one had to first type the message in the App, copy it on to the clipboard and then paste it on Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, to send the messages out in Tamil. I found this laborious.

During the course of an interview, Muthu.Nedumaran, Malaysian resident and publisher of Sellinam, said with subsequent versions, they managed to have a deeper integration with Android, which is an open source system. Apple too had integrated Tamil input devices at the system level. Nedumaran, one of the pioneers of Tamil input devices, suggested that I could try out ‘Tamil99’ or ‘Anjal’ on my iMac and Macbook Air too.

So I started writing short stories in Tamil whenever I could. Last week, I published one on the blog and there was enough encouragement from all quarters, small spelling mistakes notwithstanding.

Another tool that I started using a lot was Google Input Devices, which has the Tamil transliteration software. (My friends tell me that ‘NHM Writer’ which is available for Microsoft Windows PC is even more flexible than Google Input Tools.)

The slight disadvantage with ‘Google Input Tools’ Tamil transliteration is that it allows input only word by word. This process is slow, but one I don't mind because I am just writing short articles.

But Tamil input tools address just one part of the challenge. The other big challenge is finding the right words for the right situations.

I attended a lecture by lyricist and dialogue writer Madhan Karky, organised jointly by International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil (INFITT) and Tamil Virtual Academy. Here I spoke to a number of Tamil software developers, including Badri Seshadri, publisher of New Horizon Media, who opened my eyes to a number of tools that will help address the student in me, the one who was so scared of the Tamil language in school several years ago.

Several tools that Karky had developed through his not-for-profit research foundation such as the online Tamil dictionary 'agaraadhi' are available for free on the portal www.karky.in/labs. I found another online dictionary, www.tamildict.com, useful for finding the translation of modern technological terms such as “social network” that have become part of common use today.

I recommend to those beginners wanting to write in Tamil that they get the latest Android mobile device, which can be really cost-effective, and start using the tools I’ve mentioned. For Tamil input, the phonetic keyboard works well for desktops, whereas the Tamil keyboard is far superior for handheld devices.

Bilingual or not?

Beyond all this, there is the much larger question of whether we can be equally proficient in two or more languages. This is a doubt that many of us have. But I realised how wrong I was, thanks again to the World Wide Web and, more specifically, YouTube. I have become a fan of legendary American stand-up comedian George Carlin because of the videos on YouTube. In one of his last interviews to Jon Stewart, Carlin says he believes that people’s language capabilities are something they are born with.

As an extrapolation of that theory, if you are good at one language already, there is no reason why you can't be good at another too. Especially your mother tongue.

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