From a young age, South Forsyth High School students Suhaas Bonkur, Krithika Kasireddy, Ritika Vemulapalli and Vinay Polaku began learning Telugu and Tamil, which are south Indian languages. When the four friends began hanging out, their speaking and comprehension skills strengthened, as well as their bonds with each other.
In March, Bonkur began to develop an idea for a free tutoring service that would offer students of any age the opportunity to learn Telugu and Tamil. It wasn’t until his three friends jumped on board that the program started to take off.
“With a lot of the demographic in south Forsyth County changing to [incorporate] American Asians and Indians, I just wanted to express that culture even more,” Bonkur said.
The Telugu Tamil Tutor, or the TT Tutor for short, is the first free Telugu and Tamil tutoring service in Forsyth County and has over 20 students from ages 5 to 18. The co-founders also have a podcast and YouTube channel called ‘TT Talks’ where they go over lessons and speak in Telugu and Tamil.
Suhaas said the reason why the program has been working so well for the past month and a half is because each of the co-founders bring a different skill set to the team.
“Krithika’s really good at speaking [Telugu], I’m pretty good at reading [Telugu],” Bonkur said, “Ritika’s really good at communicating with people and Vinay’s really good at marketing. We couldn’t do it without each other.”
Kasireddy said she is the Telugu leader, and she helps to plan the Telugu learning materials and lesson plans with tutors. Vemulapalli said that she is the Tamil leader, and she meets with her tutors to help plan content as well. Polaku keeps up with the website, videos and social media so that students can easily access all material online.
“We always try to build up skills,” Kasireddy said. “We start with basics like letters and numbers and then work our way up to words and speaking as well.”
Bonkur explained that he and his fellow co-founders all speak one of the two languages at home with family members as a way to strengthen their skills and develop closer relationships with relatives.
“We’re also still learning the languages, so we’re learning and teaching at the same time,” Kasireddy said. “It’s a unique experience for us, too.”
While the TT Tutor has gained a substantial following and student base, Vemulapalli said they are always working to recruit more enthusiastic learners.
She said that over a recent weekend, the four co-founders attended TAMA’s annual 5K walk to hand out flyers and speak to people interested in learning Telugu and Tamil.
“We all wore yellow T-shirts,” Vemulapalli said. “We talked to families and handed out flyers to a bunch of people to get them interested.”
Bonkur said that the group received more than 15 new student forms from their efforts over the weekend, and he was pleased to know that the program was growing.
In terms of growing and expanding the tutoring program, Bonkur said that he has also recently been chatting with a language-learning app about putting their podcast on its platform so that lessons can reach a broader audience.
One of the tutors in the program also wants to start reading in Telugu at the Sharon Forks Public Library. Bonkur said the library already does readings in Tamil, but “we want to bring Telugu there, too.”
While the program has been expanding and each of the founders and tutors are working to grow a reach further, Bonkur said that one thing they always like to stress is that “the real learning ultimately comes from the family.”
“Us teaching the language alone is not going to make people learn it,” Bonkur said. “You can’t really learn just by reading a book or doing assignments alone, so we always encourage the parents to speak the languages at home.”
All co-founders agreed, and Kasireddy said that consuming any kind of media, such as movies, books and their podcast, in the languages also helps students.
Bonkur also explained that the sights for The TT Tutor’s future are looking bright as they hope to “develop as many lesson plans as possible by mid next year.”
“We are continuously working on making the lessons more interactive and enjoyable for the students,” Bonkur said.
In addition, the program hopes to feature professors and other Telugu and Tamil guests, such as the president of Harvard’s South Asian club and professor at Emory University.