Switching Places – Learning Tibetan

wpid-IMG_20140119_151726.jpgTo start the New Year, I decided to become a language learner and share some experiences with the people I will be teaching.

For thirteen days straight, starting on Boxing Day, I went to an intensive Tibetan language course.  We are lucky to have one of the best Tibetan teachers, Lama Choedak Rinpoche, right here in Canberra, so I grabbed the chance. What an experience!

Every day, I was confronted with a new alphabet to learn, new sounds to hear and say, different sentence structures and a completely new set of words. Learning Tibetan properly also requires an understanding of what is appropriate in different situations, so I couldn’t help but ask about this aspect many times every day.  Another interesting feature of language in Tibet is that everyday spoken language and the literary language of Buddhist texts are two different varieties.

So what was the learner perspective  like for me?

  • I could feel my brain functioning as it tried to absorb all the new information. It’s no  wonder that learning a new language can help to delay dementia!
  • Literacy really is an amazing thing and gradually learning to read the Tibetan alphabet was exciting.  The letters that were meaningless squiggles are now familiar and, because the Tibetan script reflects pronunciation, I can read and say words reasonably well.
  • Learning the language of another culture helps you to understand a bit about how people think and, in the case of Tibetan, unlocks amazing Buddhist texts, many of which have never been translated into English.
  • Being resilient and managing affective filters (like fear of failure) is important, but having a patient, gentle teacher is vital. There were times when a look of frustration from my teacher would have destroyed my confidence.  This happened when I tried to learn Japanese a few years ago but not this time and I am very grateful.
  • There is along way to go and I can’t wait to learn more.
  • From the number of times yaks were involved in our sentences, I can only surmise that there must be a lot of yaks (not to mention cows and kittens) in Tibet.