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Learning To Read Write Gurmukhi/panjabi - Tips On Getting Started

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Okay, I’ve decided to get this stuff down for anyone seriously interested in learning Panjabi - for once and for all.

That way, those people who periodically pop up on forums with questions regarding those first, tentative but monumentally important steps they should take in order to develop their Panjabi reading/writing language skills, will have something to follow. Plus, it’ll mean I wont have to retype this stuff out again and again in future.

First thing: Before anyone undertakes to learn anything that requires patience and persistence, they must first come to a place where the desire, the pure ‘want’ to learn is deep within them. Fall in love with the idea of yourself knowing Panjabi. Let this sustain you throughout your learning.

I, personally, am a BIG advocate of modern teaching approaches which utilise a person’s existing English skills to help them master Panjabi. I used such an approach to teach a nonPanjabi speaker for about 5 weeks over a summer holiday once, and was astounded at the fast progress. I myself was introduced to the basics of reading the language in the more traditional, ‘rote’ manner, where one first learns the alphabet (through ‘parroting’) and then moves on to increasingly complex words (and sentences) from there. Having been exposed to both modern and traditional approaches, I feel the more modern method allows learners to make faster progress – and is more fun!

The strategy the method outlined below adopts is to get a learner to understand the sounds associated with the various symbols of the Gurmukhi script (commonly used to write Panjabi) using English words. If this sounds confusing to you, don’t worry, it’ll all become obvious once you start the exercises. English readers should note that unlike the English language, in Panjabi the letters or symbols of the Gurmukhi alphabet only ever correspond to one particular sound. In time you will see the advantages of this over English.

Using the following approach, you will be reading and writing words (even possibly basic sentences) – before you have mastered the complete Gurmukhi alphabet. When you do eventually get to memorising the Gurmukhi alphabet by rote, this method makes that task infinitely easier as you will have already become familiar with some of the letters/symbols of alphabet beforehand.

Okay – are you ready!

Step 1: Download this Panjabi Primer. I swear by it.

Work your way through the first lesson. It’s easy. Give yourself a few hours somewhere quiet to do this. If you need to, briefly have a Panjabi reader read a few words with you to help you get started.

What you will cover REALLY helps to gain an understanding of the relationship between the symbols of the Gurmukhi alphabet and the sound they correspond to. By a few hours you will be able to write some basic English words in the Gurmukhi script. Minimal guidance from someone who knows how to read Gurmukhi can help, but isn’t absolutely necessary for lesson 1. Once you’ve done it and feel comfortable with the symbols and sounds that have been covered, try thinking of other English words you can write with the letters/symbols you’ve learned so far.

Work through the Primer steadily. Every time you start a new lesson, briefly go over what was covered in the last one before hand. Your knowledge will develop incrementally this way.

It might help to use a Panjabi knower to clarify the sounds of the symbols used in lesson 2, when you do start it

Remembering what you’ve learned.

Revisit what you have learned regularly, so that it gets reinforced in your memory. This doesn’t mean spending hours repeating material you’ve already covered. But go back to it, so that you retain your learning. REMEMBER, IT IS ONE THING TO LEARN SOMETHING – AND ANOTHER TO RETAIN THAT LEARNING – so practice frequently (in short bursts) because failing to go over what you have learned with some regularity causes it to diminish from your memory. That’s what we want to avoid, that gradual fading.

A good tip is to have a vocabulary list handy in a small note book, or as an image or file on your mobile phone/laptop. When you have five or ten spare minutes in a day – go over them. Do this on the train to work for example. Or use your ipod/mobile and headphones to play some of videos that are linked to below. This helps firmly establish the material in your mind in a way that doesn’t require too much effort. If you leave revisiting what you have covered for too long, you could easily end up in cycles of having to relearn parts of what you had previously grasped – simply because it has escaped from your memory because of time.

Another good tip is to use a mixture of reading AND writing when you re-cover material. So on one day, simply read the words/symbols you have covered on a prior occasion and on another write them down. This will reinforce the material both visually and kinesthetically, creating more pathways for retrieval from your memory.

Step 2: Once you’ve become comfortable with a few of the lessons in the Primer, it’s time to start learning the alphabet. About the third week after you have started the Primer would be a good time to introduce this into your learning. Start with this video.

I advise learning one line of the alphabet per week (alongside the material you are covering in the Primer). Note that the video will also help you to build up your Panjabi vocabulary.

Read a line of the alphabet to yourself at least five times, and then write the letters out on a piece of paper. Learning five letters a week, shouldn’t be too taxing. Plus you will already be familar with many of the letters from the exercises you’ve done from the Primer.
You can download a Powerpoint version of the above video which allows you to go through the letters at your own pace using mouse clicks, from here. It's called the 'Panjabi alphabet tutorial' in the presentation section.

Tip: The Gurmukhi alphabet is organised in a very scientific way. I found the video below very handy in highlighting this. It also helped to clarify the otherwise subtle distinctions between different sounds. I strongly advise learners to go through as many times as is neccesary after they have started learning the alphabet. English readers should note how proper tongue placement and aspiration are essential to correct enunciation in Panjabi – and if you don’t understand what this means or if it seems confusing to you, don’t worry, it was the same for me before I watched the video a few times!


How often should I study?

As a guide, in a week, I suggest having at least one long session (covering a complete, single lesson from the Primer) and then two subsequent fifteen minute ‘recap sessions’ later in the same week. In these ‘recap’ sessions revisit a representative selection of the example words from the Primer exercises and, later, when you start learning the alphabet, go over some of the lines of the alphabet in each ‘recap session’. Keep these sessions short and focused. In an ideal situation you could have 4 ‘recap’ sessions in addition to your main one, in a week. If you are really keen and inclined to study everyday, I would strongly advise giving yourself at least one day of nonstudy. The brain seems to process certain things in quite a mystical and unconscious way when learning, I’ve found giving yourself short breaks helps with this. But in the final analysis, learn to identify and adopt the strategies that help you to learn in the most efficiently way. Different people find different things helpful.

Where will this get me in terms of language acquisition?

By following the above you will cover the absolute essentials of the written language. By this I mean reading words, and basic sentences.

Where do I go from here?

The answer to the above question will differ according to your grasp of the spoken language. I imagine those wanting to learn the language will broadly come from three types of backgrounds.
  • In the first will be those who have no, or very little previous knowledge of the language, written or spoken (prior to starting the above). I think the next logical step for such people would be to learn to construct longer sentences in Panjabi. So we’re talking about ‘syntax’ here (or more simply put, the order of words in a sentence). To do this you need to steadily build up your Panjabi vocabulary. As a tip, when you start to do this - making it a habit to pay careful attention to the gender of nouns at the outset will be of great advantage later. Make the effort to do this!
  • The second type would have had previous exposure to the spoken language to some degree, say via family circumstances but are not particularly fluent in speaking (a third generation Panjabi in the diaspora for example). Such a person may possess knowledge of at least some of the more rudimentary aspects of the language (like grammar and syntax), even if this understanding is implicit as opposed to explicit. For them I suggest focusing on learning to write what you already know how to speak, or at least hear around you. Take interesting words, phrases and/or sentences you hear around you and learn to write them down. Write down lines from Panjabi songs you like. Supplement this by reading basic books. Translate basic English sentences into Panjabi and vice versa. Make it your goal to know how to read/spell all the Panjabi words you already know, and then add to this vocabulary.
  • For those who already had a good command of the spoken language but were previously unable to read and write it, once your reading speak picks up, I would suggest translating brief Panjabi newspaper or Internet articles that interest you, or small sections of books. Free Panjabi newspapers available from Gurdwaras may be of use to you in this. Websites such as Scribd and xxxapnaorg also carry a selection of freely available Gurmukhi Panjabi books. Don’t be overambitious with translation exercises but at the same time make sure you stretch yourself. As a rule each translation exercise should bring a number of previously unknown words to your attention. Write these downs with their definitions in a notebook. This will help expand your Panjabi vocabulary. Start translating one page, then go onto two, and so forth.

Panjabi dictionaries and typing in Gurmukhi

You can type in Gurmukhi with this site.

Here are two great Panjabi dictionaries you may find useful:

1) Punjabi University, Patiala dictionary

2) Srigranth dictionary

I hope this is of use to some of you. All the best to you and your learning experience. My last piece of advice is to simply get stuck in and enjoy the experience!

Edited by dalsingh101

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You have to be careful here. Are you trying to say "He teaches me" (as in question: Who teaches you? you point at the teacher and answer "HE teaches me")


are you trying to say "He IS teaching me" (that it is happening right now)? There is a difference.

ਉਹ ਮੈਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾਉਂਦਾ ਹੈ l He teaches me.
ਉਹ ਮੇਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾ ਰਿਹਾ ਹੈ l He is teaching me.

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Good reply Bhagat Singh Ji,

I was looking for the present simple tense, so "He teaches me" was the sentence I was inquiring about. "He is teaching me" is present continious tense.

So the correct sentence should be (1 or 2).

1) ਉਸਨੇ ਮੈਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾਉਦਾ ਹੈ l

2) ਉਹ ਮੈਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾਉਂਦਾ ਹੈ l

So the only thing in question is which form of "he" to use.

1) ਉਸਨੇ

2) ਉਹ

ਉਹ + ਨੇ = ਉਸਨੇ

The reason I use the postposition ਨੇ is because "teach" is a transitive verb and "he" is the nominative in this sentence. However, ਉਹ without ਨੇ would be correct if used with an intransitive verb, such as "speaks". For example, ਉਹ ਬੋਲਦਾ ਹੈ l

I understand ਨੇ can also be used as an emphasizer. However, my reason for adding it was to make my sentence grammatically correct. According to the gramnar rules, the subject of the sentence must have a case marker when it is the agent of a transitive verb.

I am learning though and I may be wrong. Personally, I like the sentence, "ਉਹ ਮੈਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾਉਂਦਾ ਹੈ l" (the one Bhagat Singh Ji suggested)

Maybe the case marker ਨੇ is not applicable here.

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Nope it's not applicable. We can take these sentences and they would still be correct without ਮੈਨੂੰ.

ਉਹ ਮੈਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾਉਂਦਾ ਹੈ l He teaches me. > ਉਹ ਪੜ੍ਹਾਉਂਦਾ ਹੈ l He teaches.
ਉਹ ਮੇਨੂੰ ਪੜ੍ਹਾ ਰਿਹਾ ਹੈ l He is teaching me. > ਉਹ ਪੜ੍ਹਾ ਰਿਹਾ ਹੈ l He is teaching.

Edited by BhagatSingh

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Great blog for new learners, talks of trials and epiphanies of learning Gurmukhi/Panjabi.


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Article on what happens in our brains when we learn a second language:


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N30, can we make this a sticky?


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This tool looks like it might be useful for kids (or even some adults). Doesn't look like it costs too much either ($40):



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