Resources for learning Tatar

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Part of a language campaign in the Kazan metro.

I didn’t exactly plan to learn Tatar… but here we are, in a city filled with татар теле (the Tatar language), and it’s hard to resist.

This sign on the metro reads, “There are two official languages in Tatarstan: Tatar and Russian. They have equal rights.”

Shops/signs are labeled both in Russian and Tatar, so new words are everywhere. It has even become a game of sorts. If I already know the word in Russian, I try to pick up the Tatar word. Last year I started an Instagram hashtag called #TuesdayTatar to share these words with other people interested in the language. Feel free to join in and share your own Tatar photo!

The other thing that drew me to Tatar is a bit silly. I got caught up in Magnificent Century, an endless Turkish soap opera. It’s known in Russia as Великолепный век and is (or was?) quite a hit. I wasn’t planning on learning Turkish either… but the actors speak SO clearly on the show that I feel like I can *almost* understand the language. It always feels like I’m just 5 minutes away from not needing English subtitles. I’ve started keeping track of a few often-used words, like yes / no / mother.

And the tie-in with Tatar? Turkish and Tatar share a number of similarities. For example, mother = anne = әни. The more I watch this ridiculous drama, the more I slowly build up some vocab. (About real life? Not really. About life in a 16th century harem? Yes!)

There’s one gigantic difficulty if you’re an English speaker learning Tatar. Sure, there are quite a few resources for learning the language… but they’re in Russian! 🤯

On one hand, that’s cool. You can language ladder, using one language you’ve learned to learn a brand new one. On the other hand, if you don’t know Russian well, you’re likely going to be very limited with resources. But one piece of good news: at least Tatar (as opposed to a language like Yakut or Evenki) is an option on Google Translate!

Another thing to be aware of is which Tatar you’re learning. There’s Volga Tatar (as seen here in Kazan) and there’s also Crimean Tatar and Siberian Tatar. Here are seven resources I’ve found for learning Volga Tatar…

1. A FANTASTIC overview in English about the Tatar alphabet and grammar!

2. The video below goes into a very detailed explanation of Tatar language.

3. 100 самых употребляемых татарских глаголов

4. A helpful series of short videos called Грамматика за 2 минуты.

5. A couple of years ago, English First teamed up with the government of Tatarstan to create a free language-learning site called Ана Теле (“Mother Tongue”). You can try registering for the program here, but I’m not sure it’s active anymore.

6. You can keep up with cultural Tatar news via the World Congress of the Tatars website. The site is available in English, Russian, and Tatar.

7. If you’d like to travel and learn, Kazan Federal University offers Tatar lessons for foreigners (online and offline).

8. If you’re interested in how Tatar stacks up to another language of Russia, check out How similar are Tatar and Sakha/Yakut languages?

A postcard from Kazan featuring a very famous, very tasty snack: эчпочмак in Tatar, треугольник in Russian.

If you have any resources to add to this list, I’d love to hear about them! Pәхмәт (aka спасибо)! 🙂

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