Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

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Punya
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Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

So I'm muddling along learning some Tibetan words in order to understand the prayers and liturgy chanted in my tradition a little better. But the spelling of Tibetan is not easy. It's not like Spanish where, if you hear the word, you can probably spell it.

I wondering what methods people use to remember the spelling - at least initially - because, after a while, you tend to know what a word looks like. Some words are easy, but for most I usually memorise a short phrase that prompts me as to the spelling. Perhaps it would be easier to just memorise the Wylie for each word, but that would seem to need prompts as well.

Any hints or comments would be appreciated.
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~Chatral Rinpoche
Arnoud
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Arnoud »

Even for educated Tibetans spelling can be difficult. Read as much as you can seems to be the general advice. Just make a list of vocab words for your sadhanas with flash cards and learn them the old-fashioned way. Hope that helps at least some.
Punya
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

Thanks for your advice Arnoud. To learn classical Tibetan I have used Anki, which utilises Spaced Repetition and the ability to include images, so this has helped a lot. What I don't do enough of is reading, so thank you for the reminder.

I enjoy delving deeper into the meaning of buddhist terminology so I don't mind the time spent, but I was just wanting to make sure my study is as efficient as possible. Over time I have worked out what works better for me in language learning and I was just curious about what others have discovered. If any one else has worked out a good system to learn the Tibetan spelling I'd love to hear about it.
We abide nowhere. We possess nothing.
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Temicco
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Temicco »

I've never used flashcards and Anki for Tibetan, I hate flashcards and have always found them to be a waste of time compared to just reading as much as I can.

With verbs, it may help to learn the eight types of verb root conjugation (dus gsum spyir btang, dus gsum bye brag, etc.) so that you get better at recognizing the patterns of prefixes and suffixes for verbs. AFAIK there are no English-language materials that discuss this topic, but if you ask a lama or translator for an English explanation they may be able to help. These eight conjugations are discussed in the commentarial literature to the rtags kyi 'jug pa.

Also, studying the distinctions of transitive/intransitive verb forms may help a bit, e.g. skor vs. 'khor.

Also, you could study Tibetan spelling rules, which are described in Western scholarship as well as in traditional Tibetan sources. For example, a prefix letter 'a cannot occur before ka, ca, ta, or pa, and a post-suffix letter sa cannot occur after na, ra, or la. Knowing these kinds of things will help you tell if the spelling you're thinking of is even possible. The rtags kyi 'jug pa is the main traditional source for this with its rules about which letter genders can be joined to which other letter genders, but it's a tricky text to learn and get explanations of, especially in English. Again, I'd ask a lama or translator about it.
"Deliberate upon that which does not deliberate."
-Yaoshan Weiyan (tr. chintokkong)

若覓真不動。動上有不動。
"Search for what it really is to be unmoving in what does not move amid movement."
-Huineng (tr. Mark Crosbie)

ཚེ་འདི་ལ་ཞེན་ན་ཆོས་པ་མིན། །
འཁོར་བ་ལ་ཞེན་ན་ངེས་འབྱུང་མིན། །
བདག་དོན་ལ་ཞེན་ན་བྱང་སེམས་མིན། །
འཛིན་པ་བྱུང་ན་ལྟ་བ་མིན། །
Punya
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

Temicco wrote: Mon Oct 10, 2022 10:02 pm I've never used flashcards and Anki for Tibetan, I hate flashcards and have always found them to be a waste of time compared to just reading as much as I can.

With verbs, it may help to learn the eight types of verb root conjugation (dus gsum spyir btang, dus gsum bye brag, etc.) so that you get better at recognizing the patterns of prefixes and suffixes for verbs. AFAIK there are no English-language materials that discuss this topic, but if you ask a lama or translator for an English explanation they may be able to help. These eight conjugations are discussed in the commentarial literature to the rtags kyi 'jug pa.

Also, studying the distinctions of transitive/intransitive verb forms may help a bit, e.g. skor vs. 'khor.

Also, you could study Tibetan spelling rules, which are described in Western scholarship as well as in traditional Tibetan sources. For example, a prefix letter 'a cannot occur before ka, ca, ta, or pa, and a post-suffix letter sa cannot occur after na, ra, or la. Knowing these kinds of things will help you tell if the spelling you're thinking of is even possible. The rtags kyi 'jug pa is the main traditional source for this with its rules about which letter genders can be joined to which other letter genders, but it's a tricky text to learn and get explanations of, especially in English. Again, I'd ask a lama or translator about it.
Yes, there does seem to be a consensus about doing more reading, which I will do, although there is also a benefit in knowing the difference between, for example, བཞི་ (four) and གཞི་ (ground), but I guess the context will usually tell you that.

Unlike you, I enjoy the flashcards (as long as I can add images that are meaningful to me) and I also like writing in Tibetan. For me, doing both reading and writing helps me learn more easily, but we all have different learning styles. Now that I have connected with the local Tibetan community (through volunteering as an English language tutor), I hope to have a better ear for the sound of the language too.

I haven't heard about the rtags kyi 'jug pa before, but then I haven't really studied Tibetan verbs or grammar much yet. I'll look into this in the future. I have studied the Tibetan spelling rules, but probably not as well as I could. I don't have too much difficulty reading Tibetan and knowing which letters are silent and the pronunciation when letters are combined, so I'm more focussed on correctly spelling words (as best I can) when I'm writing and understanding the meaning.

Thanks for your comments Temicco. I hope this discussion will help other Tibetan language students as well.
We abide nowhere. We possess nothing.
~Chatral Rinpoche
Punya
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

Temicco wrote: Mon Oct 10, 2022 10:02 pm
Also, you could study Tibetan spelling rules, which are described in Western scholarship as well as in traditional Tibetan sources. For example, a prefix letter 'a cannot occur before ka, ca, ta, or pa, and a post-suffix letter sa cannot occur after na, ra, or la. Knowing these kinds of things will help you tell if the spelling you're thinking of is even possible.
On thinking about this, learning the spelling rules more thoroughly is a very helpful point. Thank you!
We abide nowhere. We possess nothing.
~Chatral Rinpoche
zerwe
Posts: 720
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by zerwe »

Punya wrote: Wed Oct 12, 2022 12:20 am
Temicco wrote: Mon Oct 10, 2022 10:02 pm
Also, you could study Tibetan spelling rules, which are described in Western scholarship as well as in traditional Tibetan sources. For example, a prefix letter 'a cannot occur before ka, ca, ta, or pa, and a post-suffix letter sa cannot occur after na, ra, or la. Knowing these kinds of things will help you tell if the spelling you're thinking of is even possible.
On thinking about this, learning the spelling rules more thoroughly is a very helpful point. Thank you!
I thought that that la + sa gave us (las/ley) the word for action/karma. or am I confusing suffix and post-suffix?

Shaun :namaste:
Punya
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

zerwe wrote: Wed Oct 12, 2022 2:28 am
Punya wrote: Wed Oct 12, 2022 12:20 am
Temicco wrote: Mon Oct 10, 2022 10:02 pm
Also, you could study Tibetan spelling rules, which are described in Western scholarship as well as in traditional Tibetan sources. For example, a prefix letter 'a cannot occur before ka, ca, ta, or pa, and a post-suffix letter sa cannot occur after na, ra, or la. Knowing these kinds of things will help you tell if the spelling you're thinking of is even possible.
On thinking about this, learning the spelling rules more thoroughly is a very helpful point. Thank you!
I thought that that la + sa gave us (las/ley) the word for action/karma. or am I confusing suffix and post-suffix?

Shaun :namaste:
Yes, I think you are. To invert what Temicco is saying, the post-suffix sa can only occur at the end of syllables ending in ga, nga, ba or ma. The sa in your example is a suffix, not a post-suffix.
We abide nowhere. We possess nothing.
~Chatral Rinpoche
Temicco
Posts: 193
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Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Temicco »

Punya wrote: Tue Oct 11, 2022 11:03 pm Yes, there does seem to be a consensus about doing more reading, which I will do, although there is also a benefit in knowing the difference between, for example, བཞི་ (four) and གཞི་ (ground), but I guess the context will usually tell you that.
You say "although" -- do you feel that reading more won't help you know the distinction between e.g. བཞི་ and གཞི་? If not, why not?

The point of reading a lot is that after seeing a word used a few dozen times in different contexts, you will naturally remember its spelling. The way you do this is by reading a Tibetan text with no English translation beside it, and every time you hit a word you don't know (or where you forget if it means "four" or "basis", for example), you look it up in the dictionary. After seeing the same word several times over several consecutive days of study, you will find you remember what it means and don't have to look it up anymore. This probably won't happen in a single session though, and you'd need to study with this method several times a week for it to work well.

This method also has the benefit of massively improving your grasp of grammar at the same time. If you do this a few times a week for a few years, you will be able to read basic Classical Tibetan. The speed can be tailored as desired, but it's all about putting in hundreds to thousands of hours of reading. All of this is something you'd have to do after you've already completely studied a textbook on Tibetan grammar.

A couple caveats -- 1) the text should be appropriate to your level (e.g. use an existing Tibetan reader that distinguishes easier texts from harder ones), and 2) it's fine to consult English translations if you can't sort some part out, it's just bad to study from a text that has the English translation right beside the Tibetan. That kind of text doesn't make your brain work hard enough to remember the kind of distinctions you want to learn.
Punya wrote: Tue Oct 11, 2022 11:03 pm Now that I have connected with the local Tibetan community (through volunteering as an English language tutor), I hope to have a better ear for the sound of the language too.
That sounds like a great opportunity, and also a wonderful service to provide 🙏
Punya wrote: Tue Oct 11, 2022 11:03 pm I haven't heard about the rtags kyi 'jug pa before, but then I haven't really studied Tibetan verbs or grammar much yet. I'll look into this in the future.
This text is usually just called the "Takjuk" or "Tamjuk". Traditional Tibetan grammar ("Sumtak") is grounded on two texts attributed to Thonmi Sambhota -- the Sumchupa, which is about Tibetan particles, and the Takjuk, which is about which sets of letters (grouped into "genders") can occur next to which other sets of letters. It's both very dry and very interesting at the same time, haha.
"Deliberate upon that which does not deliberate."
-Yaoshan Weiyan (tr. chintokkong)

若覓真不動。動上有不動。
"Search for what it really is to be unmoving in what does not move amid movement."
-Huineng (tr. Mark Crosbie)

ཚེ་འདི་ལ་ཞེན་ན་ཆོས་པ་མིན། །
འཁོར་བ་ལ་ཞེན་ན་ངེས་འབྱུང་མིན། །
བདག་དོན་ལ་ཞེན་ན་བྱང་སེམས་མིན། །
འཛིན་པ་བྱུང་ན་ལྟ་བ་མིན། །
Punya
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Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:50 pm

Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

Temicco wrote: Wed Oct 12, 2022 7:10 am
The point of reading a lot is that after seeing a word used a few dozen times in different contexts, you will naturally remember its spelling. The way you do this is by reading a Tibetan text with no English translation beside it, and every time you hit a word you don't know (or where you forget if it means "four" or "basis", for example), you look it up in the dictionary. After seeing the same word several times over several consecutive days of study, you will find you remember what it means and don't have to look it up anymore. This probably won't happen in a single session though, and you'd need to study with this method several times a week for it to work well.

This method also has the benefit of massively improving your grasp of grammar at the same time. If you do this a few times a week for a few years, you will be able to read basic Classical Tibetan. The speed can be tailored as desired, but it's all about putting in hundreds to thousands of hours of reading. All of this is something you'd have to do after you've already completely studied a textbook on Tibetan grammar.

A couple caveats -- 1) the text should be appropriate to your level (e.g. use an existing Tibetan reader that distinguishes easier texts from harder ones), and 2) it's fine to consult English translations if you can't sort some part out, it's just bad to study from a text that has the English translation right beside the Tibetan. That kind of text doesn't make your brain work hard enough to remember the kind of distinctions you want to learn.

Thanks for the detailed explanation. What you are saying makes sense. I think you've just laid out my study path for next few years. :twothumbsup:

Temicco wrote: Wed Oct 12, 2022 7:10 am This text is usually just called the "Takjuk" or "Tamjuk". Traditional Tibetan grammar ("Sumtak") is grounded on two texts attributed to Thonmi Sambhota -- the Sumchupa, which is about Tibetan particles, and the Takjuk, which is about which sets of letters (grouped into "genders") can occur next to which other sets of letters. It's both very dry and very interesting at the same time, haha.

Interesting. For anyone who's curious, a translation of the Sumchupa has been posted on the Tibetan Language Institute website as a free resource. Perhaps the Takjuk translation will also be made available there in the future.
We abide nowhere. We possess nothing.
~Chatral Rinpoche
Temicco
Posts: 193
Joined: Sat Jul 11, 2015 8:47 am

Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Temicco »

Punya wrote: Thu Oct 13, 2022 9:34 pm Thanks for the detailed explanation. What you are saying makes sense. I think you've just laid out my study path for next few years. :twothumbsup:
You're welcome! All the best with your study.
Punya wrote: Thu Oct 13, 2022 9:34 pm For anyone who's curious, a translation of the Sumchupa has been posted on the Tibetan Language Institute website as a free resource. Perhaps the Takjuk translation will also be made available there in the future.
Oh, where is this? I couldn't find it on their website.
"Deliberate upon that which does not deliberate."
-Yaoshan Weiyan (tr. chintokkong)

若覓真不動。動上有不動。
"Search for what it really is to be unmoving in what does not move amid movement."
-Huineng (tr. Mark Crosbie)

ཚེ་འདི་ལ་ཞེན་ན་ཆོས་པ་མིན། །
འཁོར་བ་ལ་ཞེན་ན་ངེས་འབྱུང་མིན། །
བདག་དོན་ལ་ཞེན་ན་བྱང་སེམས་མིན། །
འཛིན་པ་བྱུང་ན་ལྟ་བ་མིན། །
Punya
Posts: 1366
Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:50 pm

Re: Methods of learning Tibetan spelling

Post by Punya »

Temicco wrote: Thu Oct 13, 2022 11:16 pm
Oh, where is this? I couldn't find it on their website.
Sorry I didn't post it before.
https://wiki.learntibetanlanguage.org/e ... /sum-cu-pa
We abide nowhere. We possess nothing.
~Chatral Rinpoche
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