By the Trikāya Translation Committee.

Tibetan Language Proficiency Levels: A Guide

Contact Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy:
Online Tibetan Language Courses

  • Phone number for messenger apps (WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Discord): +40 769 824 828

    Note: WhatsApp is currently used for most communications with students. Classes can be held on multiple platforms, including WhatsApp, Skype, Google Duo & Zoom.
  • Email: trikayatibetan@gmail.com

Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy:
Navigation Menu

Tibetan Language Proficiency Levels:
A Guide

Students are classified into 8 categories of Tibetan language proficiency, as follows:

1. Beginner Level (A0): Novice Proficiency 0 hours of total study

2. Lower Intermediate Level (A1): Limited Functional Basic Proficiency50 hours of total study

3. Upper Intermediate Level (A2): Full Functional Basic Proficiency500 hours of total study

4. Lower Advanced Level (B1): Limited Business Working Proficiency1100 hours of total study

5. Upper Advanced Level (B2): Full Professional High-skill Proficiency2200 hours of total study

6. Lower Mastery Level (C1): Limited Professional High-skill Proficiency3300 hours of total study

7. Upper Mastery Level (C2): Full Professional High-skill Proficiency4400 hours of total study

8. Distinguished Expertise Level (C3): Genuine Bilingual Near-Native Proficiency5500 hours of total study

  • Classical Tibetan and Colloquial Tibetan should be considered as two separate subjects, each of which require separate study and separate accumulations of study hours.

    Hence it is quite possible (and very common) for students to be, for example, at Level B2 in Colloquial Tibetan but A2 in Classical Tibetan, or at Level C1 in Classical Tibetan but B1 in Colloquial Tibetan.

    Therefore, students should consider their Classical Tibetan study as different from their Colloquial Tibetan study, and count their hours as separate. For example, it requires 1100 hours to reach Level B1 in Classical Tibetan and another, separate 1100 hours to reach Level B1 in Colloquial Tibetan.
  • Modern Literary Tibetan is largely comprised of non-religious literature from the 20th and 21st century, and is essentially an amalgamation of Classical Tibetan and Colloquial Tibetan, so the study of either one contributes rather directly to the learning of Modern Literary Tibetan as well, and should not be counted as a separate accumulation of study hours.

    Nonetheless it is also a separate subject in its own right, especially in terms of modern neologisms and more recent and/or technical vocabulary (politics, science, etc.). Modern Literary Tibetan is the written Tibetan language which is used in most modern publications. It is a continuously changing and rapidly evolving literary language which has been in use since the early 20th century. For example, the first Tibetan newspaper of any note, the Tibet Mirror from Kalimpong (India), was founded in 1925, while the works of one of the first “modern” Tibetan authors, Gendun Choephel, were written mainly in the 1930s and ’40s and date from after 1934.
  • The short-term goal of fluency and literacy in Tibetan is Upper Advanced Level or Level B1 (1100 hours). This is the level where students can begin to engage in preliminary exercises or in translation, interpretation, research or translation, in an amateur or hobbyist capacity. Most students have this level as their primary or provisional goal.
  • The mid-term goal of fluency and literacy in Tibetan is Upper Mastery Level or Level C2 (4400 hours). This is the level where students can begin to engage in the serious undertaking of translation, interpretation, research or language teaching, in a professional or working capacity. Most students have this level as their secondary or medium-range goal.
  • The long-term goal of fluency and literacy in Tibetan is the Distinguished Expertise Level or Level C3 (5500 hours). This is the level where students can be properly be considered qualified experts on the subject of Tibetan language, and can begin to work as advanced linguistic specialists in Tibetan. Those at this level should be quite capable of excellent translation, interpretation, research or language teaching, in a published or academic capacity. Most students have this level as their final or ultimate goal.

1. Beginner Level (Novice Proficiency)

0 to 50 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

By the end of the Complete Beginner Level (50 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 500 Tibetan words and terms.

Beginner Level corresponds to Level A0 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 0 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • At Beginner Level (A0), students learn how to read the Tibetan script and pronounce Tibetan syllables properly.
  • At Beginner Level (A0), students learn important Tibetan vocabulary and essential Tibetan grammar.
  • At Beginner Level (A0), students ask and answer basic Tibetan phrases and questions.

2. Lower Intermediate Level (Limited Functional Basic Proficiency)

50 to 500 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Lower Intermediate Level (Limited Functional Basic Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 50 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

By the end of Lower Intermediate Level (500 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 2500 Tibetan words and terms.

Lower Intermediate Level corresponds to Level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 1 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • At Lower Intermediate Level (A1), students can understand and use familiar everyday Tibetan expressions and basic Tibetan phrases and questions, especially those aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • At Lower Intermediate Level (A1), students can introduce themselves and others in Tibetan, and can ask and answer questions about personal details in Tibetan, such as where they live, people they know and things they have or own.
  • At Lower Intermediate Level (A1), students can interact in a simple way in Tibetan, provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

3. Upper Intermediate Level (Full Functional Basic Proficiency)

500 to 1100 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Upper Intermediate Level (Full Functional Basic Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 500 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

By the end of the Upper Intermediate Level (1100 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 5500 Tibetan words and terms.

Upper Intermediate Level corresponds to Level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 2 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • At Upper Intermediate Level (A2), students can understand Tibetan sentences and frequently used Tibetan expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance, such as very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography and employment.
  • At Upper Intermediate Level (A2), students can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information in Tibetan, on familiar and routine matters.
  • At Upper Intermediate Level (A2), students can describe, in simple Tibetan terms, aspects of their background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need or relevance.

4. Lower Advanced Level (Limited Business Working Proficiency)

1100 to 2200 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Lower Advanced Level (Limited Business Working Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 1100 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

By the end of the Lower Advanced Level (2200 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 11,000 Tibetan words and terms.

Lower Advanced Level corresponds to Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 3 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • Lower Advanced Level (B1) is generally considered to be the stage where students reach a moderate or preliminary degree of effective fluency and literacy in Tibetan language.
  • At Lower Advanced Level (B1), with a vocabulary of 5500 to 6600 words, students should be able to both formulate and understand the majority of general speech and text in Tibetan.
  • At Lower Advanced Level (B1), students can understand the main points of clear standard Tibetan conversation on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school or leisure.
  • At Lower Advanced Level (B1), students can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where Tibetan language is spoken.
  • At Lower Advanced Level (B1), students can write simple Tibetan text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • At Lower Advanced Level (B1), students can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions in Tibetan, and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

5. Upper Advanced Level (Full Business Working Proficiency)

2200 to 3300 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Upper Advanced Level (Full Business Working Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 2200 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

By the end of the Upper Advanced Level (3300 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 16,500 Tibetan words and terms.

Upper Advanced Level corresponds to Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 4 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • At Upper Advanced Level (B2), students can understand the main ideas of complex Tibetan text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.
  • At Upper Advanced Level (B2), students can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity in Tibetan that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible, without much strain or linguistic dissonance for either party.
  • At Upper Advanced Level (B2), students can produce clear, detailed Tibetan text on a wide range of subjects, and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue in Tibetan giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

6. Lower Mastery Level (Limited Professional High-Skill Proficiency)

3300 to 4400 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Lower Mastery Level (Limited Professional High-skill Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 3300 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

By the end of the Lower Mastery Level (4400 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 22,000 Tibetan words and terms.

Lower Mastery Level corresponds to Level C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 5 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • At Lower Mastery Level (C1), students can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning in Tibetan.
  • At Lower Mastery Level (C1), students can express ideas fairly fluently and spontaneously in Tibetan, without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • At Lower Mastery Level (C1), students can use Tibetan language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • At Lower Mastery Level (C1), students can write clear, well-structured, detailed Tibetan text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

7. Upper Mastery Level (Full Professional High-Skill Proficiency)

4400 to 5500 cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Upper Mastery Level (Full Professional High-skill Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 4400 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

By the end of the Upper Mastery Level (5500 hours), students should have a vocabulary of around 27,500 Tibetan words and terms.

Upper Mastery Level corresponds to Level C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) adopted by the European Union, and Level 6 of the Interagency Language Roundtable (IRL) used by the United States Foreign Service Institute.

  • At Upper Mastery Level (C2), students can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read in Tibetan on an everyday basis, or in most general contexts.
  • At Upper Mastery Level (C2), students can summarize information from different spoken and written Tibetan sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • At Upper Mastery Level (C2), students can express themselves spontaneously, fairly fluently and precisely in Tibetan, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in complex situations.

8. Distinguished Expertise Level (Genuine Bilingual Near-Native Proficiency)

5500+ cumulative hours of Tibetan study and language practice.

Distinguished Expertise Level (Genuine Bilingual Proficiency) is reached after the student has accumulated 5500 hours of Tibetan study and language practice (including passive learning such as listening, reading and conversation).

Distinguished Expertise Level surpasses the final levels of Level C2 and Level 6 in the CEFRL and IRL respectively, and would therefore be Level C3 or Level 7 according to those systems.

  • Distinguished Expertise Level (C3) represents the stage of a fully qualified translator, interpreter, researcher or teacher in the field of Tibetan language, who by accumulating 5500 hours of study and language practice has become sufficiently educated in the subject.
  • While few students ever manage to attain this higher level of proficiency in Tibetan, mostly due to the sheer amount of time it requires, those who do put in the necessary time — 5500 cumulative hours of study and language practice — will certainly reach the Distinguished Expertise Level (C3).
  • At Distinguished Expertise Level (C3), students can confidently translate almost any spoken Tibetan speech or written Tibetan text confidently and with 99%+ accuracy, including highly specialized terminology and personal areas of expertise.
  • At Distinguished Expertise Level (C3), students can understand the vast majority of public speeches, news broadcasts and newspaper articles, religious sermons and oral Dharma teachings in Tibetan, as well as most books, at a 95%+ comprehension rate.
  • At Distinguished Expertise Level (C3), students can express nearly all of their thoughts, feelings and experiences in both spoken and written Tibetan, with relatively few grammatical errors.

%d bloggers like this: