Introducing the Tibetan by Osmosis Experiment

With multimedia in foreign languages ubiquitously available on the internet, I am going to see if I can attain fluent comprehension of a spoken foreign language, learning mostly by osmosis.

In particular, I’m going to work on the colloquial Tibetan language

osmosis |oz-moh-sis| figurative the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

The plan is to simply listen to an hour a day of audio in Tibetan, and see if my brain eventually learns to understand it perfectly. My main source of audio will be Radio Free Asia’s hour-long daily podcast of the news in the Lhasa dialect of Tibetan.

To help out, I also have the Lonely Planet Tibetan Phrasebook. I’m not planning on memorizing its phrases – its main value to me is its brief English-to-Tibetan dictionary in the back of the book.

So if I keep hearing a certain collection of syllables and I’m pretty sure it means “radio” for example, I can look up “radio” in the dictionary and see if their phonetic spelling of the Tibetan word correlates with what I’m hearing.

Why Tibetan? There are many reasons, but the most important are:

I have a personal interest in the language. I like the Tibetan people, their flavor of Buddhism, and the beauty of their land. Somehow I feel that understanding their spoken language will give me further insight into their way of life.

I don’t know much Tibetan. For this experiment to be of interest to others attempting to acquire languages, it’s best that I start with one that, apart from a handful of words, I don’t know at all.

Tibetan might be easy. Might be? I don’t really know for sure. On one hand I’ve heard that it’s a “farmer’s language” and not very complex. On the other I’ve read that much is communicated through implication, so you have to be able to read between the lines. One big advantage of Tibetan though is that it is not tonal!

Tibetan is quite dissimilar to English. I think it makes it more interesting to go with a language that isn’t from the same family as my native tongue.

So to conclude, the goal of this experiment is just to see if it’s possible to use the internet to attain a high level of listening comprehension in a foreign language not so much by studying the language but just by letting my brain do what neural networks do – recognize patterns that they are repeatedly exposed to.

For the record, I recognize that this way of learning will most likely not give me conversational skills.