First Sentence!

Well it’s been quite a while since I’ve added an entry to my Tibetan Language project diary. It’s certainly not because I’ve abandoned the project. I’m as engaged and diligent in listening as ever.

But after the first few write-ups from my initial setting sail, there hasn’t been too much to report. I’m still averaging about 5 hours a week, am understanding more and more, and am slowly building my vocabulary. What else is there to say?

Well… One important thing I’ve learned is that not all of my listening hours are created equal.

There are two ways I listen to my hour a day of Tibetan. One is what I’d call passive listening, which means I have RFA on and can hear it clearly, but I’m only partly paying attention because I’m simultaneously doing something else that also requires some brain cycles.

The second method, active listening means that I remove other distractions, lie down and close my eyes, and really pay attention – constantly using my brain to try to figure out what they’re saying.

Most days I’m too busy (or lazy) to do this, but when I can actively listen, it really seems to pay off.

Note that I consider both to be “osmosis” techniques in that in either case there is an attempt to learn simply by exposing your brain to the spoken language repeatedly. No memorizing grammar, definite or indefinite articles, long vocabulary lists…

It was during a session of active listening that I understood my first complete sentence about a week ago.

After much gnashing of teeth, I had, a few days prior, finally figured out that a high frequency word I had been repeatedly hearing, le-rim, meant “program”. This word is often preceeded by te-ring gyi or ngan-tsö for “today’s program” or “our program” respectively.

After an hour of active listening, the very last phrase spoken on the program was:

Seng-ye nam-ba tso, ngan-tsö le-rim zin-pa, thu je che.

I didn’t know what zin-pa was, but knew the rest:

Listeners, our program zin-pa, thank you.

Remember our analogy of the Tibetan crossword? Due to this being the last sentence in the broadcast and the surrounding words, zin-pa could only mean “is over” or “has concluded”. A quick dictionary search for “end” or “finish” did indeed turn up zin-pa.

In fact, the speaker seems to pronounce it more like zin-par so I’m guessing this might be short for zin-pa ray or “is finished”. Either way, it was my first completely understood sentence and was therefore a big shot in the arm.

Had I not been actively listening, I’m sure this would have passed me by…

What else is new? Well I’ve learned that even though my Lonely Planet Phrasebook is supposed to be in the Lhasa dialect, some words are still different in RFA’s Ü-kay broadcast.

Take “Japan”, for example. The phrasebook says it’s pronounced ree-bin in Tibetan. I only know a handful of words in Japanese, but I do know that the name of the country in Japanese is ni hon.

And in many RFA broadcasts I was hearing the very similar nyi-hong used in such a way that it could only be a country (i.e. “Today, the government of nyi-hong…”). I knew in my bones that it must mean Japan and was indeed later able to confirm it as an alternative to ree-bin by consulting a different dictionary.

This has happened more than once, so I’m no longer spending much time trying to look up what I believe to be high frequency words in order to be able to listen for them. I might end up listening for the wrong thing…

Time seems to be better spent just reading the RFA headlines aloud each day (though I don’t know what I’m saying) and listening for common syllable groups (words) that my brain has picked up on from the podcasts. Once I hear myself say them, I can then take a closer look to find how to spell them to be able to look them up in a dictionary as mentioned in a previous post.

Not the fastest technique, but so far guaranteed as a way to crack an unknown, high frequency word within a week or two.

Now if only na-lee-a will make an appearance…

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