James Riley bio photo

James Riley

Ruby, Javascript and Friends. Part of the SupaDupa team. Living a life of learning. Join me.


I’m visiting the seemingly beautiful Indian state of Kerala in a few short months from now - and I’ve decided I’m going to have a go at learning the language, Malayalam, to the extent possible. Who can we lie to if not ourselves? I’m British, speak only English and some Portuguese - and the goal is to immerse myself, learn some conversational phrases, pick up the alphabet, and take the challenge of seeing what can be achieved with a deadline and a smattering of optimism.

What will be my approach? Well, my options are limited, Malayalam is regularly cited as one of the most difficult languages to learn, and one factor which has immediately become apparent, is how little there is in terms of resources. In London especially, you won’t find anything in book stores, no language courses in educational institutions and you certainly won’t overhear it on the bus. That said, I’ve come across a few beginner resources, and will continue to take a fine-tooth come to the internet and share what I discover.

Starting as an absolute beginner, I’ll document this theoretically transient journey and I hope that it helps someone somewhere to discover that it’s a crazy idea and shouldn’t be attempted. Either that, or it’ll serve as motivation, inspiration and assistance to your own learning efforts. Before any holiday, I like to have courtesy and take an interest in the basics of the language - Malayalam will see a greater effort than most, given my desire to fully experience Kerala, and that the family of my partner speak the language. Further, being the challenge it is, making any significant level of progress will open myself up to the idea of learning other languages outside of the Latin based languages I’m more familiar with.

So, what resources am I starting out with:

MangoLanguages - MangoLanguages was suggested to me on Reddit, a language learning site with a DuoLingo feel, albeit based around learning phrases, which are translated, along with the literal translation, spelling, and linear journey. I’m two lessons in, and pretty reassured by it.

Learn Conversational Malayalam - The YouTube channel ‘Philanthrope fromIndia’ has a set of about a dozen videos, around 15 minutes each in length, with the goal of teaching Malayalam through English. It’s the better of a few Malayalam related learning videos on YouTube, and I’ll be working through these, taking notes and rewatching to familiarise myself with the sounds and sights of the language.

Importantly, I’ll be trying Anki as part my learning. Anki is the idea of flash cards with spaced repitition, where learnt words are marked as to not appear as often - meaning weaker words are repeated more frequently and thus lead to faster retention. I’ll be building of vocabulary and phrase lists - and spending my morning commutes running through ‘em. I also expect to spend on average 30 minutes every evening working through the course/video mentioned, and gradually exposing myself to more Malayalam music, basic reading material, and sourcing Malayalam movies, in the hope that my brain absorbs it and bestows fluency upon me in time to read the credits. Let’s begin!