Classical Tibetan Notes

I first started learning classical Tibetan back in April I think. I can’t quite remember at the moment, but I have been extremely lucky with the fact a good friend’s fiancé, Lowell, became my teacher and friend through this course. We could have done the book a lot faster as it is only 7 lessons, but my friend, Veronika, and I have our work schedules and our teacher has his university schedule to work around to allow us to meet up once a week. We took a break from classes during the summer as we were all in different places and on vacation and we missed a few weeks of class in October as our teacher had to head to a conference in America and spent some time seeing family. We are also taking a brief interlude now as he is in Nepal, teaching at Ranjung Yeshi University and doing a meditation retreat. We will have one more class before my friend Veronika leaves to move to Nepal for 6 months and with that the book will be finished!

I’ve been extremely blessed with this opportunity even though the class has been very hard and a lot of times I have struggled with understanding the vocabulary and grammar. The vocabulary is difficult because it is based on learning Buddhist texts so a lot of the words are new to me or are translations of English words, even I don’t use often. Some words are based off of Sanskrit as well, so because I am new to Buddhism, I may need to ask what a word means. If I forget to ask in class, I try and look it up on the internet. Thank you world wide web! 

The grammar is a completely different story. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m not good at grammar even in English, it has taken me years to improve, ask my family, and I am still improving. Learning grammar in another language especially when you don’t have a strong understanding of grammar in your own language can prove to be difficult and mentally draining. At times, I feel dumb as shit. Like its something I don’t quite understand and can’t wrap my head around it no matter how many times it is explained and it makes me frustrated with myself and the education I received where our instruction of grammar stopped basically in middle school when it should have continued through high school and university.

Our review for the last few weeks.

So here we are in lesson 7 and with about 5 weeks without classes so we were assigned to finish translating the sentences in the book, translate the extra sheets of sentences, study the vocabulary and fill in the verb auxiliary cheat sheet. There are three weeks left to finish everything and I really haven’t started. Mostly because I hate translating sentences, because I have a belief that I am just bad at it. So it makes me put off the task of doing it in the first place as it is a struggle for me. Despite that I am very happy I took this class, even though my boyfriend wishes I had taken a class on spoken Tibetan instead.

We both agree me learning how to speak Tibetan is more important and I will get into what I and doing for that in another post, but I am glad I decided to take this class. It has helped me a lot with reading what my friends post in Tibetan and being able to identify grammar structures and how the sentences are put together, even though my understanding is small and I still struggle with the grammar. It is now easier for me to figure out which part of the sentence is are words and which parts are particles. As I ask more questions, I have been able to ask Lowell about colloquial Tibetan as well to see if he can offer comparisons or differences in vocabulary. He normally knows the answer and shows us how classical can help when studying colloquial, especially Amdo Tibetan. He started learning Lhasa Tibetan first and now is learning Amdo Tibetan himself, and has  for a few years. He says that Amdo Tibetan is more closely related to Classical Tibetan and when it comes to pronunciation or colloquial grammar structures you can see where they came from if you know classical Tibetan.

Looking up words and checking with our teacher when I can’t find the answer.

I’ve been able to write sentences more easily since taking this class even though I still make many mistakes, I can understand when Dondrup changes my text and shows me the correct answer. It’s always a grammar mistake and sometimes a vocabulary mistake, but because I have some working knowledge of the grammar, it helps me understand where I went wrong so I won’t make the same mistakes next time. 

I’ll definitely be a little sad once our class ends and we won’t be able to learn together for awhile, and I am unsure of if our class will continue. We’ve talked about trying to do lessons over Skype and practice reading a text together maybe next semester after the winter holidays even though we will be in different places. All I know is I have definitely come to Chengdu at the right time and met the right people by chance and coincidence all from Himalaya Toastmasters and we have formed our own little community of foreigners learning Tibetan, that don’t happen to be missionaries (our numbers are few on that front.) Here is to studying hard for the next few weeks and may all of the hard work payoff!

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