Sunday, February 05, 2006

Learning the Tibetan Alphabet

I have not really covered how to write Tibetan letters. There are tools (see earlier postings) where you could type in Wylie and the output is Tibetan letters.

If you search the web there are also many wonderful sites that show how to draw and pronounce the Tibetan letters.

One main reason I left this out is that we could spend a very long time going through the letters and pronunciation, and for a while there's not a sense of progress, even if there is. But by going directly for words and sentences you get the big picture, and the hope is that you see that recognizing and translating sentences is not so hard (it gets hard later, and then it's easy again).

However, it's really important that you learn how to read the letters, it should not take that long if you spend some time learning them. A couple of tricks:

  • Use a big notebook and just draw the same letters, over and over again, after a while the brain has the pattern programmed into your mind, so you see them clearly.
  • Just be brave and look at Tibetan texts over and over, first it looks strange, but after a while you start to see the letters, words, and other patterns. It's a big win if you start recognizing letters and single words, and then it accelerates from that point forward.
  • Take a couple of words and learn to write them, see them in your mind, and go over them from time to time (I used to write Tibetan words on a big whiteboard at work, and co-workers always were fascinated about the strange letters).
  • Learning famous short statements from the texts also help, write them down over and over again.
Unlike other Asian languages, the Tibetan language has syllable-based letters (not pictograms), and also you could somehow read it from beginning to end (see other postings about the issues), so there's less of a learning curve.

PS: This was the 100:th posting, so it was indeed appropriate to talk about the Tibetan letters.


Anonymous said...

At the 1000th entry, do we get to see the Djinn again and ask'im to fulfill another wish? Like "Please, 1000 more entries on the blog?"


Thanks and happy 100th entry!

Kent Sandvik said...

It's very auspicious to ask for more entries, what happens is that it will happen!

Anonymous said...

Hello Kent,

Thank you for adding entries regularly with such discipline and diligence. That's a teaching in itself.

I just read the biography of Khenpo Shenga:

If anyone is desperate about not being able to learn tibetan... please read his biography. It'll help you "hit the pig [ego]with a pestle [renewed inspiration]on the snout [to make it shut up]."
Thank you to the Lotsawa house lotsawas...

May you all persevere indeed.

Many thanks to the creator(s) of this invention called "blog".

Good day Kent and all who browse this way :).

Kent Sandvik said...

Thanks! Yes, blogs are cool, it's like working on an 'organic' book.

If you start a Tibetan language blog, let me know and I add you on the right side as a link. --Kent

Anonymous said...

Hello again Kent,

May your words come true.

Now that I've 'hit the pig on the snout,' I'll get down to some regular training in Tibetan language.

And, in a couple of years maybe through the power of auspicious aspirations on this auspicious day (Guru Rinpoche day), just maybe I'll be able to start a truly useful blog on the question. :)

For the time being, it's best I stay underground... haha.

(It's like, when Lamas speak, it's better to go home and mull over the teaching a while rather than raising a bold hand and asking a very spontaneous question without having listened till the end of the teaching...) :)

What I pray for is that there may be many many underground fellas like me out there: white, black, blue, yellow, red... And hopefully some of us might grow into true lotsawas in the years to come...

So, with joined hands, please carry on your precious activity Kent. You never know whom it might help.

Tashi Delek

RB said...

Hi all,

I bought this book called "A Great Treasure of Blessings." It's a book beginning with a biography of Padmasambhava. Its main contents are prayers to Guru Rinpoche, the Leu Dunma, Prayer in Seven Chapters and many more.

What I find nice is that there's the tibetan text, beautifully arranged and underneath the phonetical transcription in English. Then last comes the English translation.

It's easy to carry around and I like spotting words in tibetan.

Sometimes it's tricky when it comes to place names.The English translation presents the common name/term in Sanskrit but it's a different word in the tibetan version.

Just thought I'd mention it. If anyone is interested, you can find the book on

Good day to you all,

Kent Sandvik said...

Thanks for the reference. Yes, I like similar books with Tibetan on one side, and English on the other.

In addition to learning Tibetan, it's a beautiful way to honor the original text and author. --Kent