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Learning Tibetan Strategies

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A classmate recently approached me asking about ways to improve her Tibetan. This is something I reflect on a lot (as I’m sure we all do!) and, although there must already be 
many such lists, I thought I might share a few less common approaches in light of the variety individual learning-styles.

1.) Wechat (Tib: skad ‘phrin )

For me, Wechat has been of immense benefit. The walkie-talkie style voice chat allows you to listen to messages as many times as needed until you understand. Once you understand you can response with the possibility of canceling your message before sending in case you make a
mistake. This gives you a little more space to recall grammar, words, pronunciation, etc. than in a real-time conversation. There are also subscription accounts that send you short articles about Tibetan issues in composed in literary Tibetan as well as Tibetan lessons spoken in both Lhasa and Amdo dialects. This is a really great way to continuously immerse yourself in an Tibetan language environment. The one disclaimer is that Wechat is heavily monitored, so if you chat with friends in Tibetan it’s best to keep the conversation to topics like hot thukpa and cold weather.


2.) Get loud! (dpe klog )

This approach would seem to comprise the entirety of Tibetan pedagogy and is surprisingly helpful. Initially, I was skeptical of how volume could improve one’s spoken language. However, I eventually realized that often in social situations a combination of social anxiety and mispronunciation can make one all but incomprehensible. The idea then is that, when you do your reading, whether it being daily recitations or reading from a book, see how loud you can read. It might sound easy but reading like that for a half hour is indeed challenging. Do this a few times a week and you’ll find your Tibetan flowing out with confidence and enunciation.

3.) Umm… Conversation fillers…

There are a few phrases that can help fill the awkward silences inherent in beginner language learners’ speech. Not only will this make your addressee more comfortable when you’re fumbling to recollect words and structures, but it will also buy you time to say whatever you’re trying to express, meanwhile creating an illusion of fluency (i.e., a unbroken stream of language). We use them a lot in English too so it’s only a matter of learning and implementing them in Tibetan. A few high frequency ones are:

ག་རེ་ཟེར/ག་རེ་ཟ/ག་རེ་ཟེར་དགོར་རེད
དེ་ནས་་་ 
རྦད/རྦད་དེ་་་་ 
གཅིག
ཨ་ནི/ཨ་ནེ

A grammatical structure that works in a similar manner is replacing your main object with the pronoun ‘di. For example, someone asks you for the time and you’re very poor with numbers. So you say: ཆུ་ཚོད་་་་་འདི་རེད། ཆུ་ཚོད་ལྔ་དང་ཕྱད་ཀ་རེད་བཞག  

In English it would sound like, “It is ….let me see… oh, five thirty!” This structure is commonly used when the name of something escapes you. Like the movie you went to see  last night: གློག་བརྙན་མིང་ལ་་་་་འདི་ཟེར་་་་་་Spiderman ཟེར་གྱི་འདུག


4.) Enjoy not understanding (mi shes pa yang skyon med )

One of the ills of the modern institution of education is to place too much importance on “understanding” during the learning process. This is particularly true in language classes. Instead, I would encourage you to try to see how much you do know instead of shutting down or being
overwhelmed with how much you are missing. If you focus on what you do understand, you’ll be able to work with it. If you focus on you’re your missing you’ll just stress yourself out.

5.) Make it fun (dga’ spro che ba )

Many second language learners of English learn vast amounts through films, television, and other outlets of popular culture. While the Tibetan movie industry might be lacking compared to Holly/Bolly-wood (although there is a sizeable production coming from A mdo) there are
a few – check out “Richard Gere is My Hero”  “Richardངའི་དཔའ་བོ་ཡིན”. There still are many other comparable channels. Tibetan music is extremely rich and, luckily enough for us, all the music videos have lyric subtitles. A friend and I have been enjoying listening to songs and translating their lyrics. There are also many Chinese comedies and dramas as well as other international films dubbed into Tibetan.

Good luck with your language learning! Bod yig khri lo shog !

~Lowell from USA

2 replies on “Learning Tibetan Strategies”

Thanks for your advice! Helpful for learning Amdo dialect as well. Nice to see a message of you 🙂 Best from Xining, Antje

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