Can one really do RYI’s intensive Translator Training Program (TTP) with only one year of prior Tibetan language learning? In short, yes. But is it advisable? Probably not.
This kitty reminds me of my own face in the TTP translation class. In this very precious class, a lopon gave lectures on a wide range of dharma texts, ranging from Paltrul Rinpoche’s commentary on Bodhicaryāvatāra to sections of Mipham Rinpoche’s Gateway to Knowledge, and the students took a 30-40 minute turn in doing English interpretation, with an interpretation corrector giving corrections.
So what Tibetan language learning did I take prior to TTP? Since my main interest lies in reading Tibetan texts on my own, I started out with RYI’s summer program in Classical Tibetan in June 2019. The two-month intensive summer program covers basic classical Tibetan grammars, which is equivalent to one school year of study. Then during the 2019 Fall-2020 Spring school year, I took the intermediate classical Tibetan and basic colloquial Tibetan. So that was my one year of Tibetan learning prior to starting TTP in June 2020. I could understand easy Tibetan texts to some degree with a lot of help from dictionary, and my colloquial Tibetan was extremely limited—we hadn’t even completed all colloquial grammar teaching. My TTP started with the June 2020 summer course in intermediate colloquial Tibetan and then the translation class starts.
Of course, with my close to non-existent vocab and poor listening comprehension, initially I really doubted how I could survive the translation class. Fortunately, our first dharma lecturer was very experienced and skillful in speaking slowly in an easy-to-follow manner. I actually enjoyed the class very much. Then there were some ups and downs depending on the speaking speed and accents of the lopons—once I even asked a lopon to repeat four times of a verse he was quoting!
So why is it not advisable to do TTP with limited Tibetan? Of course, it very much depends on individual circumstances. In my case, I spent most of my time in translation class, translation methodology and classical Tibetan (Yes, there are other classes on top of the main translation class), minimum effort in a Khenpo class on Words of My Perfect Teacher, and completely skipped a colloquial Tibetan class. If my Tibetan were better when I started TTP, I would have taken more advantage out of the whole program. In addition, one needs to have mental resilience to cope with the fact that there is a gap in Tibetan proficiency between oneself and fellow classmates, not to mention that if your classmate has already been doing Tibetan interpretation.
In summary, yes, it is possible to do TTP with only one year of prior Tibetan studies. For me, it is the most efficient way to enhance my dharma listening comprehension as I do not plan to be a Tibetan-to-English interpreter but wish to be able to follow Tibetan dharma lecturers. On the other hand, for someone who really wants to be an interpreter, it might be better to spend another year in colloquial Tibetan learning in order to take the full profit out of this program.
~ Bella Ching-Hsin Chao