Nitartha Institute Immersion Tibetan Program

The view or philosophy behind the immersion technique of language instruction is that languages are living phenomena that can best be learned by practicing them. The best way to practice a language is to speak it. In the Nitartha Institute Tibetan Immersion Program with the aid of drawings, gesture, pantomime, and demonstration, we teach Tibetan in Tibetan through dialogue and a variety of oral and written exercises. Our instructional materials are a mixture of materials developed by Esukhia, a Tibetan language institute based in Dharmsala, India, and materials developed in-house. Because instruction is in small groups—sometimes one-on-one—and because no two students have exactly the same backgrounds, learning styles, or natural abilities, it is very difficult to present a precise syllabus that will apply to all potential students. What follows is a generic syllabus for a person with no prior study or knowledge of Tibetan.

The Nitartha Institute Tibetan Immersion Program is =an intensive immersion experience. Class meets for 5½ hours, six days/week. In addition, students are strongly encouraged to arrange two hours/day (five days/week) of tutorial instruction with Esukhia’s on-line teaching corps which is staffed entirely by native Tibetan speakers.

Program Dates:

Session I: Friday, July 15 to Thursday, July 28
Travel day: Friday July 29
Session II: Saturday, July 30 to Friday, Aug 12
Travel day: Saturday August 13

Registration Deadline:

UPDATE NOTICE (as of May 8, 2016): Revised Registration Deadlines
May 29, 2016 (Sunday) — Residential Participation: If you require UBC accommodations and meals.
June 17, 2016 (Friday)
 — Non-residential Participation: No UBC accommodations nor meals available.

Accommodations, Meals, Travel, Logistics, etc.

For information about the 2016 Summer Institute in general, including this Summer’s venue/setting, practicalities, recommendations, logistics, etc, please visit the Summer Institute Program page.


Click on the green tabs below to display various course information/descriptions, arranged by Session.

Session I

Session I

Arrive: Friday, July 15 
Classes: Friday, July 15 evening to Thursday, July 28 evening
Travel day: Friday, July 29

Week One

The first week begins with learning the thirty consonants and four vowels of the Tibetan alphabet, known in Tibetan as the Āli-kāli (ཨཱ་ལི་ཀཱ་ལི།). Students first learn the proper pronunciation of the consonants individually and then in combination with the vowels. In contrast to English, Tibetan makes subtle distinctions in tone, voicing and aspiration that to a untrained, non-native ear sound can be very difficult to differentiate. To give an example, in English even though the /d/ in “dentist” is aspirated and the /d/ in “blood” in non-aspirated, they function as different allophones, that is, different spoken sounds (or phones) used to pronounce a single phoneme, here /d/. In contrast, in Tibetan these two sounds that are allophones in English express two completely different phonemes; thus, for example in dēn-bā, meaning “to show, teach, demonstrate,” the “d” sound is high, unvoiced and unaspirated, whereas in den-bā, meaning “truth,” the “d” sound is low, voiced and aspirated. It is, accordingly, of utmost importance that students learn to hear and make these distinctions which express different phonemes or units of meaning from the start. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a student’s progress in learning Tibetan closely correlates with her/his ability to differentiate semantically distinct sounds that initially sound similar to the untrained ear. Because this ability is so central to how Tibetan is spoken we continue to work with refining students’ pronunciation throughout the program.

Once students have a basic grasp of the Āli-kāli, we gradually introduce the full complement of prefixes, superscripts, subscripts, suffixes and secondary suffixes and the sound or pronunciation changes that accompany them. To the extent possible, explanation of the Āli-kāli is conducted in Tibetan. All examples are written in the Tibetan Āli-kāli both to acquaint and familiarize students with the written form of the language and to reduce the tendency to use the transliterated forms as a guide to pronunciation.

It is expected that by the end of the first week most students will have sufficient grasp of the basics to move on to simple stock phrases and simple question and answer exchanges.

Week Two

The second week builds on the skills developed in the first. In the second week, while continuing to work regularly on pronunciation, we introduce simple interrogative and declarative sentences such as, “What is this?,” “This is X,” and “Who are you?,” “I am Tashi,” and so forth. From here, the lessons increase in complexity; the next topic, for instance, is constructions of existence and location, such as “Is Tashi in your school?,” and so on. Grammar is introduced contextually which means that new grammatical forms are introduced only insofar as they support and reinforce those already present in the dialogical context. In other words, speaking and hearing competency is the primary focus, not knowledge of abstract grammatical forms.

These exercises introduce a wide range of basic vocabulary and foundational grammatical constructions pertaining to everyday objects and activities. All instruction is in Tibetan. The emphasis on introducing new vocabulary and grammatical forms contextually enables students to become comfortable thinking and operating in Tibetan. This is the key to the immersion technique. It is also essential to developing good reading skills and the ability to comprehend Tibetan directly without the need to “translate” it into one’s mother tongue in order to understand it. Indeed, this is a primary advantage and the raison d’être of the immersion approach: it bypasses the habitual tendency, reinforced by traditional instructional techniques, to translate everything back and forth between one’s mother tongue and the target language. Tibetan-only instruction reduces the likelihood that students will fall prey this crippling habit.

Since instruction is primarily through conversation between students and teachers, daily use of the forms of the Tibetan language occurs naturally thereby ensuring that materials learned in previous lessons continue to be reinforced even as new vocabulary and forms are introduced.