Letter of Introduction from Erick Tsiknopoulos,
Founder of the Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy

Dear Tibetan Enthusiasts,

I am an extensively experienced, highly qualified linguistic specialist, translator, interpreter, author, Buddhist scholar-practitioner and language teacher with deep expertise in the fields of Tibetan translation, Buddhist studies and Tibetan language education. I have a well-rounded understanding and intimate familiarity with all three main forms of the language — Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary Tibetan — and I teach the best strategies and tips for learning all three aspects of Tibetan fast and effectively.

I have been practicing Buddhism since 1999, studying Tibetan language since 2004, translating and interpreting professionally since 2008 (mostly Tibetan Buddhist texts), and teaching Tibetan language since 2011. I lived in the Tibetan communities of the Himalayan region of South Asia for 11 years from 2008 to 2019, where I engaged in a deep and immersive study of Tibetan Buddhism, language, culture and philosophy.

As a language, Tibetan is one which is truly a fascinating, beautiful, inventive, poetic and expressive. It also boasts some of the most important ancient and modern literature in the world. As a Tibetan language teacher since 2011, I’ve had the great honor of helping numerous students realize their own potential, as I watched with joy how quickly they could learn how to communicate and read in Tibetan.

Fluency in multiple languages is becoming increasingly crucial throughout the world, and has multiple benefits on several levels. Tibetan is one of the most remarkable and captivating languages that has been more studied in recent decades by thousands of eager students. But it is still largely misunderstood, underestimated and wrongly viewed as too “exotic” or “foreign” for most people to pick up. Many students, and even some teachers of the language, do not appreciate the importance of having a general familiarity with all three main forms of the language (Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary) and ideally a deep study of all three of them.

Even many experts in the various sub-fields of Tibetan Studies – scholars, translators and language teachers, as well as professors and academics – so often have only a rudimentary understanding of extremely important aspects of the language – whether with respect to Classical, Colloquial or Modern Literary Tibetan. In brief, there is a very serious problematic issue of there being a general lack of knowledge regarding Tibetan language; an issue which is rather pervasive. As Tibetan could be considered an endangered language, the resolution of this issue through effective language education becomes all the more pressing. Tibetan needs to be taught in a way which actually enables students to reach fluency and literacy, in order to preserve and sustain the language.

The systematic and scientific study of colloquial Tibetan as a foreign language, in particular, is indeed a very new field. It has only really existed since the 1990s, and it was not until the early 2010s that more thorough research and accurate educational literature of a higher quality began to appear on a widespread level. The same could more or less be said of Tibetan-English textual translations, many of which are of a poor quality before 2010. Therefore, even within the relatively knowledgeable domains of Tibetan Studies and the international Tibetan Buddhist community, it is still fairly rare to meet non-Tibetans who can speak Tibetan fluently and/or read Tibetan literately, that is to say, with a high degree of proficiency in both. This is an unfortunate situation that I intend to do my part toward improving.

There are many good reasons for learning Tibetan, whether Classical, Colloquial, Modern Literary or some combination. At the very least, Tibetan opens the door to an endless treasure trove of history, philosophy and civilization, with an extensive literature stretching back 1400 years. Studying this incredible language introduces one to the eminently unique Tibetan culture, which is rich, ancient and profound, yet vibrant, alive and modernizing. Though small in native population (about 7 million people), Tibetan culture wields considerable influence over East, South and Southeast Asia, and beyond that holds global significance to people all over the world. Learning Tibetan is also empowering, as it gives direct access to the vast wealth of Tibetan literature, religion, culture, arts, public discourse, media and society.

But learning Tibetan language can be a frustrating process. Many students don’t know how to learn Tibetan properly – and quickly. As a result, they waste hours, days, months or even years struggling to improve their language skills. Unfortunately, their progress is often slow and painful. I’ve even seen many students who spent several months or years learning Tibetan language in India or Nepal, but eventually gave up on their studies. This is a sad state of affairs.

What is clear is that a genuinely holistic and integrated but also modernized and streamlined approach to the study of Tibetan is not being taught at most institutions, whether Western universities or South Asian language schools. To some extent, this is also related to the educational level of the teachers themselves, in particular with regard to their study background in the three main forms of Tibetan (Classical, Colloquial and Modern Literary), as well as their English language skills, translation experience and level of education in Buddhism.

Most students of Tibetan who’ve studied the language, even those who’ve studied for many years, frankly just don’t have a satisfactory level of proficiency in Tibetan…

…whether that be in Classical, Colloquial and/or Modern Literary Tibetan.

And many of them will never become really conversationally fluent or college-level literate, even if they work in a field related to Tibetan language as their occupation.

I think the main reason for this is an issue of educational methodology. In other words, what learning techniques are being used by students of Tibetan language, and which teaching methods are used by their language instructors.

Therefore, in my Tibetan courses there is a strong focus on innovative and effective instructional strategies, in order to keep my students motivated and actively involved.

Whatever your need or interest in studying Tibetan may be, I feel confident in my skills as a Tibetan language teacher. And I can likewise confidently suggest that you will enjoy and appreciate my ideas and methods, and find them useful for your own learning process.

Here are a few aspects of my teaching methodology, in brief summary:

  • For beginners, I can help students master the Tibetan script (if necessary), and at the same time, I present sentences and vocabulary through examples in Tibetan. This ensures student comprehension through repetition and etymological analysis of each word.
  • The next step is reinforcing the structures of the language, by asking questions about the sentences and vocabulary. I solicit student responses by asking why, who, when, where and how questions, thus continually recycling the vocabulary and the grammar.
  • Finally, the same vocabulary and grammar structures are used in readings of Tibetan texts, in order to verify students’ comprehension. Sometimes I may refer to grammar briefly with rapid or more in-depth explanation, but the stress is always on meaning and comprehension.

I enjoy teaching students of all ages. Age should never be an obstacle to learning. Many of my best students have been in the 55 to 70 age range, and some have been even older. Life experience, especially experience with other foreign languages, and even writing and reading in your own language, proves to be a great help when learning Tibetan. If you are over 50, please do not hesitate to learn Tibetan, or to continue to build on your previous Tibetan studies. Although it is true that one’s 20s and 30s are generally considered a good time to begin studying a new language, there is also significant evidence that language learners over age 40 have quite substantial and powerful advantages over younger students, for various reasons. Back in the 2000s, being over age 40 was often seen as an obstacle to learning Tibetan! This now seems ridiculous in the 2020s, and with good reason. Times have changed and fortunately society has become less ageist, and generally more appreciative of the value of life experience, and the concept of continuing education for older adults has become more widely accepted.

I try to ensure that working with me as your personal Tibetan language teacher is a thoroughly pleasant educational experience. Each student has their own unique talents and abilities, but every student also has the potential to learn, given the right motivation and encouragement. Students generally do not have any difficulty understanding the materials I use. They just need to find their own most efficient learning style, and also develop a strong personal motivation for studying Tibetan – both of which I try to help them discover in the context of my courses.

I look forward to hearing from you, and am always happy to help guide you in your Tibetan language studies. My duty is to enable you to achieve success in your Tibetan language studies, as well as in all your endeavors related to Tibetan and the study of Buddhist texts.

Best Regards and Countless Tashi Deleks!

Erick Tsiknopoulos
Founder, The Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy སྐུ་གསུམ་བོད་ཡིག་སློབ་གཉེར་ཁང་།
July 2021

Study Tibetan with a Translator: Online Courses in Classical, Colloquial & Modern Literary Tibetan with Erick Tsiknopoulos

Study Tibetan with Erick Tsiknopoulos, a translator, interpreter, author and scholar-practitioner of Buddhism.

Our Tibetan language courses are the highest quality available for modern students seeking qualified online instruction in all aspects of Tibetan language.

The Trikāya Tibetan Language Academy
སྐུ་གསུམ་བོད་ཡིག་སློབ་གཉེར་ཁང་
Online Tibetan Language Courses

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For online Tibetan language courses, send us a message on WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram or Discord, or shoot us an email at tibetanteaching@gmail.com.

རིག་པ་ནངས་པར་འཆི་ཡང་བསླབ། །
ཚེ་འདིར་མཁས་པར་མ་གྱུར་ཀྱང༌། །
སྐྱེ་བ་ཕྱི་མར་བཅོལ་བ་ཡི། །
ནོར་ལ་རང་ཉིད་ལེན་པ་འདྲ། །

Even if you must die tomorrow, train in your studies today!
Though you may not become an expert in this life,
Your knowledge will be preserved for future lives;
Like wealth deposited and then oneself reclaimed.

– Sakya Paṇḍita (1182-1251), The Precious Treasury of Elegant Sayings (sa skya legs bshad)