My Cheatin’ Heart

Let me cut to the chase. I found another way to cheat.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I was no longer going to limit myself to my original aim of learning purely through osmosis. I was now also going to look up and memorize a few Tibetan words that I expected were appearing in high frequency in the news broadcasts.

And I’ve had some good success learning new words this way.

But now I’ve listened to enough broadcasts that I’m regularly hearing certain groups of syllables (i.e. words), but have no way of looking them up due to the fact that most Tibetan words are not spelled phonetically. Kinda like my earlier problem with sen-gye nam-ba tso.

Hold on! How would I, a non-Tibetan speaker, know how Tibetan words are spelled?

A few years ago, I decided to study Classical Tibetan in order to be able to read old, yet-to-be-translated Buddhist commentaries. Just as someone wanting to peer behind the modern veils of Christianity might study New Testament Greek.

Osmosis Grand Master

Osmosis Grand Mistress


In a nutshell, I really only got as far as learning the alphabet. And as luck would have it, though (in my understanding) there are large differences between the Classical and Colloquial Tibetan languages, the alphabet’s use is about the same.

So I’ve had what I thought was a useless skill. I can read Classical or Colloquial Tibetan aloud, and pronounce most words properly, even though I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Turns out it’s not so useless…

While snooping around RFA’s website the other day, where I can find not only my podcast audio but also the news written in colloquial Tibetan, I made an important discovery.

Though RFA publishes news in Tibetan, their permalinks are in English!

Huge advantage here. I can read the headlines aloud in Tibetan first, just to see if there are any of those common collections of syllables (words) that I’ve been hearing. If so, I hover my mouse over the story’s link, and I can see a rough English translation of said headline in the status bar.

I can then surf on over to Nitartha, use Wylie to enter the word (now spelled properly with all the infernal silent letters), and confirm the meaning of a word that’s been escaping me for days.

So once again, I stray a bit further from the original osmosis approach, though 90% of my time is still spent just listening to Tibetan news. My strongest interest, I must admit, is to develop fluent listening comprehension of this language as quickly as possible.

In this case, I think I’m well-advised to listen to my nying go kor-sha.