(updated April 2017)
Interested in learning Tibetan? Here are some resources for learning colloquial and classical Tibetan. I will update this post whenever I come across new resources. This not meant to be an exhaustive list, it’s only resources that I’m personally familiar with, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Feel free to suggest resources that you have found useful and let me know if you find a broken link. Email: email@example.com. Thanks!
TIBETAN LANGUAGE TRAINING CLASSES
Tibetan Language Class / Facebook site – Tibetan Language Class is an online initiative taken to help improve your basic speaking and writing. It is free and open to anyone interested. The class is online and will be taught on Saturday mornings. This is a great class, most of the students are native Tibetan speakers. The class is taught mostly in Tibetan. The Facebook contains a wealth of phrases, videos and other resources. It is updated on a regular basis, so there’s always something new to learn.
Esukhia is a non-profit organization based in Dharamsala, India. The school teaches online courses merging the modern (video-conference, e-learning platform, TFL methodology/Tibetan as a Foreign Language) with the traditional (trained teachers who graduated from Shedras or Tibetan universities). Many of these young Tibetan teachers are refugees who escaped from Chinese-occupied Tibet on foot.
This is a fantastic service, I highly recommend it. Very inexpensive and a lot of fun – the teachers are highly skilled, well-trained and extra patient. Fastest way to learn Tibetan, next best thing to being there! Resources for practicing your listening comprehension (Tibetan As A Second Language) YouTube videos available here and on SoundCloud. Esukhia also offers an on-site immersion program in Dharamsala, India.
The Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Programme is a 4-year Tibetan language training program aimed at providing native speaker interpreters in FPMT centers worldwide. The program consists of two years of classroom study in Dharamsala, India followed by two years of training at an FPMT center as an interpreter for a geshe.
Ranjung Yeshe Institute offers an online classical Tibetan training course as well as Buddhist philosophy. It also has a 12 month translator training program in Nepal and much more.
http://bodyiglobjong.com — this is an extensive collection of materials for learning Tibetan starting with flash cards and then moving up to readings for intermediate to advanced students. Materials on this site are only in Tibetan.
“Colloquial Tibetan: The Complete Course for Beginners” by Jonathan Samuels, Routledge, 2014 (see comment below for a review)
Speak Fluent Tibetan by Dr. Chok Tenzin Monlam Peltsok, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2013. This is an excellent, practical, easy-to-use introduction to Tibetan for beginners. Students should already know the alphabet. The book contains simple sentences in a dialog format. The author suggests that students memorize each dialog. Lesson 1, for instance, is Hello!, Lesson 2 is “I am Chok”, and the last lesson, Lesson 76 is “I have/had been reading books”. Dr. Chok has taught Tibetan to Westerners for many years, and his careful choice of vocabulary and sentence patterns reflects his understanding of his students’ needs. By memorizing the dialogs, students effortlessly learn the rules of grammar. The appendices are helpful – he has pulled together in one place many of the commonly used phrases and verbs. A CD is also available. Highly recommended!
Tibetan Baby Books – a beautiful board book for teaching the alphabet to children ages 0 – 3.
Learn Tibetan for Children entertaining and professionally made videos for teaching Tibetan to children. Works for adults, too! Search for “Nga Tse” on YouTube.
Wild Yaks is committed to addressing the needs of the Tibetan community through the development variety of children’s educational materials and through providing opportunities for the people who want to work in this context. Children’s songs and story telling in Tibetan.
The Tibetan Language Student – this site has been around for many years. It has a good collection of tools for learning the alphabet, understanding sentence structure and reading basic texts.
Manual of Standard Tibetan by Nicolas Tournadre & Sangda Dorje, Snow Lion Publications: 2003. Esukhia uses this book, and I highly recommend it assuming you have a teacher to help you. It has detailed explanations of grammatical usage which I find a little difficult to understand because I was not an English major in college so the terminology is new to me (e.g., “polar-compounds comprising verbs”, or for pronunciation “the semi-voiced bilabial plosive”). But the examples are good, the vocabulary is helpful, and the sentence patterns are useful. It has some interesting passages the describe Tibetan culture and civilization. The authors provide both colloquial and literary equivalents for the vocabulary. The Appendices include a glossary and a collection of grammar lessons so they’re easy to find. Each lesson has a dialog, a grammar lesson, and exercises. 2 CDs accompany the book, they are recordings of the dialogs. The book is nicely formatted and the presentation is easy to follow. There are a few typos here and there, but if you have an experienced teacher to help you, this won’t be a problem.
Nga-wang-lek-den Lecturing on Tsong-ka-pa’s Three Principal Aspects of the Path – the teaching is broken up into hundreds of short audio recordings along with Jeffrey Hopkins’ translation.
Geshe Thubtan Jinpa. Advanced Tibetan Dialogues. PDF, 100 pages. free download. Excellent conversation exercises, grammar. Tibetan script.
Tsetan Chonjore. Colloquial Tibetan. LTWA — good textbook with useful vocabulary, conversations, and exercises. Explains basic grammar in an easy to understand manner.
Losang Thonden. Modern Tibetan Language, Volumes 1 and 2. LTWA — I’ve carried around both of the books for years. Great vocabulary and sentence patterns, but the books lack an explanation of grammar.
Ven. Losang Monlam Dictionary (Windows XP, Mac) — Tibetan to English as well as English to Tibetan. Mostly colloquial. Also, there’s an amazing Universal Pronounciation Guide – dialogues good for conversational listening skills, honorific and non-honorific vocabulary and much more. The site is only in Tibetan, so it’s a bit of a challenge, but just keep clicking and you’ll find the downloads. Instructions on installing the Monlam dictionary, font and keyboard for the Mac (YouTube video in English). iPhone / iPad app https://itunes.apple.com/in/app/monlam-dic/id1054645616?mt=8
Melvyn Goldstein. English-Tibetan Dictionary of Modern Tibetan — contains 16,000 entries, Tibetan plus transliteration. Uses the entry in a sentence, provides honorific and non-honorific terms.
Melvn Goldstein. The New Tibetan-English Dictionary of Modern Tibetan — contains 80,000 entries. Nicely presented, with examples in Tibetan script and Honorific equivalents for nouns. Includes very specific words such as “gondru” – a button on the top of a hat.
Tashi Tsering. English-Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary. Ethnic Publishing House — not very useful if you’re just learning Tibetan because it doesn’t give examples of usage. Instead, it provides the Tibetan and Chinese equivalents of the English term. Without examples, it’s hard to know if the English term is being translated correctly. It contains 50,000 lexical items and 15,000 head words, so there’s a good chance it has the word you’re looking for (it even includes “dunderhead” and “Hitler”). Makes me regret not studying harder back in the days when I was taking intensive Chinese language classes.
The Dzongkha Development Commission dictionaries — available online and as an HTML download. Many other great resources on the main website including a Tibetan font and input keyboard.
RADIO / TV / MUSIC
Voice of America – Tibetan – there are many special programs in addition to the news. In particular, I like Cyber Tibet a program that explores the voices and opinions on the Tibetan blogosphere, and shares Tibetan music, videos and images that appear on the internet (not that I understand it all, but maybe some day!).
Radio Free Asia – Tibetan, there’s also an English version
Phayul.com carries the latest news and it streams pop music.
Phurbu Namgyal has posted the lyrics to some of his songs on his website so you can read the lyrics . enjoy his music at the same time. His website also has some Children’s materials including readings of folk tales. Also check his excellent series of cartoon videos for kids on YouTube – click Videos. With English subtitles.
Khunu Rinpoche Tenzin Gyaltsen. Vast as the Heavens Deep as the Sea. Wisdom Publications. 1999. — although this book is not specifically intended to be used for teaching Tibetan, it is a pretty good choice for beginning students of classical Tibetan. More information and a verse are available here.
Lotsawa House – a virtual library of Buddhist texts translated from Tibetan. The site currently features more than 1000 texts in nine different languages.
Introduction to Tibetan Language – this book is an introduction to reading classical Tibetan By McComas Taylor and Lama Choedak Yuthok. Part One is available as a free PDF download.
This is a great site for learning the heart sutra. It has the Tibetan letters, a transliteration (so you can learn to pronounce them), a literal translation of each Tibetan word (so you can learn what the words mean), an understandable translation into English (literal translation sometimes not understandable), and sound clips of each sloka and the whole sutra.
Yael Bento. A Classical Tibetan Reader: Selections from Renowned Works with Custom Glossaries. Published by Wisdom Publications. Paperback US$15.16
The author provides a fairly extensive glossary for each work, however, she did not include a complete English translation. The glossary does not discuss grammar. The works are interesting — examples include the birth of Milarepa and the story of Arya Asanga’s meeting with Maitreya. For beginners, it would be better to study this with the assistance of a teacher. www.wisdompubs.org
Online Buddhism class facebook site — a free, weekly online buddhism class with Geshe Losang Dhargye, resident teacher at Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa’s Center, Do Ngak Khun Phen Ling. Tibetan only. Great way to learn both Tibetan and Buddhism from the comfort of your home. Geshe la is a talented teacher and the class has participants from around the world. A copy of the root text and vocabulary words is emailed to participants.
The Hopkins Tibetan Treasure Research Archive – The archive consists of over three thousand hours of authentic oral transmission on many scholarly and cultural aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including many traditional Buddhist philosophical topics, Tibetan medicine, Tibetan history, and so forth. The archive includes four hundred hours of teachings by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and thousands of hours of teachings by numerous lamas of the last generation of Buddhist scholars to be thoroughly trained in Tibet. Includes digital learning resources for Tibetan including pronunciation of the consonants, and Yang-jen-ga-way-lo-dro’s Grammar Verse, Advanced Tibetan Dialogues by Geshe Thubten Jinpa, and the Jeffrey Hopkins Tibetan-Sanskrit-English dictionary.
Stephen Hodge, Introduction to Classical Tibetan – a short book packed with explanations about classical Tibetan grammar. Includes short reading passages and a listing of 250 verbs and their different tense forms. Good basic Dharma vocabulary. Unfortunately, it only uses transliterated Tibetan, what a shame.
Geshe Lhundup Sopa. Lectures on Tibetan Religious Culture. — a very interesting classic for intermediate to advanced students.
Joe B. Wilson, Translating Buddhism from Tibetan Snow Lion 1992 – this is a detailed, systematic approach to teaching classical Tibetan. The grammar is carefully explained from the ground up. An excellent starting point for students who have never studied Tibetan before.
Craig Preston. How to Read Classical Tibetan Volume One: Summary of the General Path Snow Lion 2003 – in a way, this book picks up where Joe Wilson’s book left off, it is for advanced beginners/intermediate students. Preston uses an excerpt from Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim Chemo to teach the intricacies of Tibetan grammar and to introduce new vocabulary. The presentation is similar to Joe Wilson’s, sentences are broken down into individual components and carefully analyzed. Remarkable. See also How to Read Classical Tibetan Volume Two: Buddhist Tenets 2009
TBRC Digital Library — dedicated to the preservation, organization and dissemination of Tibetan literature. Using the latest digital technologies, TBRC is ensuring that the treasures of this incredible body of literature will never be lost. A gift to the world’s treasury of knowledge from the project’s originator, E. Gene Smith.
Jeffrey Hopkins’ Tibetan-Sanskrit-English Dictionary (PDF) – free download. Extensive Dharma vocabulary, romanized Tibetan only. Includes verb tenses.
Tibetan and Himalayan Library – three very helpful online translation tools including historical Tibetan, Tibetan to English (paste in a complete passage and get translations from multiple dictionaries), and even a transliteration converter. For example, here is the link to the Translator tool.
Illuminator Tibetan – English dictionary – very rich dictionary created by the Padma Karpo Translation Committee. Each definition is very detailed with links to associated terms. Searchable in either Tibetan or Wylie. Not free, but well worth the investment. I’ve spent hours exploring this dictionary. Windows or Mac. NOW available on the iPhone and iPad! 😀
Tsepak Rigzin. Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology. LTWA — contains 6,000 main entries and the Sanskrit equivalents. Terms that are lists of items include a description of each item (e.g., the entry for “the ten trainings in skillful means” defines each of the ten. No transliteration, only Tibetan characters. Primarily Dharma vocabulary. Hardcover only.
Resources that are primarily in Tibetan:
DharmaDownload.net – an excellent site if you’re looking for Dharma texts in Tibetan particularly those from the Kagyu lineage.
rigzod.org – wide selection of classical texts in Tibetan only.
tibetanebook.com – a large collection of books from the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as other subjects.
Tibetan Language Bookstore – a wide selection of books, CDs, readers, workbooks, and dictionaries.
RESOURCES FOR LEARNING ANY LANGUAGE
Quizlet.com Quizlet is a fun tool for creating flash cards. Create quizzes based on your sets of cards. It’s free and available both online via the desktop and as a mobile app. Use it to learn a language or really any subject. Search on “Tibetan” and you’ll find that the vocabulary from books such as ‘Translating Buddhism from Tibetan’ by Joe B. Wilson have already been uploaded.
SmartLanguageLearner easy to read article with helpful tips on how to learn a language.
Please feel free to suggest your favorite books, dictionaries, websites, etc.