How to Learn the Tibetan Alphabet

Updated April 17, 2017

Studying Tibetan can prove useful for travel to Tibet, academic research, and the study of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan is written with a unique script which is also used to write the related language of Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan. You can also find works in Sanskrit that utilise the Tibetan rather than the Devanagari script. When travelling in Tibet, the locals will greatly appreciate your attempt to read and converse in the Tibetan language. You may gain a greater appreciation of Tibetan art and religious objects if you can recognise and understand Tibetan writing.

Familiarise yourself with the forms of the Tibetan script. There are two versions of Tibetan script, the u-chen script, and gyuk-yig. U-chen is a printed form, where the letters appear separate from one another. Gyuk-yig script is a form of cursive, though not all the letters in gyuk-yig connect. The letters in gyuk-yig change shape and look quite different from the u-chen versions. As with the Latin alphabet, it will be an easier task to master the printed alphabet before attempting to learn the cursive form. You can find examples of both forms of Tibetan script on, as well as a comprehensive guide to learning and pronouncing the u-chen script, Tibetan numerals and punctuation marks.

Study the names of the u-chen letters and the sounds they represent. Tibetan script represents sounds in combinations; consonant clusters are represented by whole letters instead of letters written in combinations as in English. You will need to learn these conjunct consonants as well as the letters in their solitary form in order to read and write in Tibetan.

Learn to write the letters. Once you can pronounce and recognise the alphabet, learn to write the solitary letters in addition to the consonant clusters. You will need to be able to write the letters with the correct "stroke order," meaning that you must pay attention to where you begin and end the lines to make up the letters. Get help from a native speaker or someone who has mastered Tibetan. If you can't find someone literate in Tibetan, you can find videos on YouTube or language learning tutorials to guide you through the process of writing the letters in the correct manner.

Practice with flashcards. Practice pronouncing and reading words as well as the alphabet. Making the flashcards will be an effective step in the study process of learning to write, and you will have the cards to use as learning and review material.

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About the Author

Pamela Ann Ludwig has lived, worked and studied on five continents. Her articles can be seen online at various websites. She holds a Master of Arts degree in history from San Francisco State University and has experience teaching different dance disciplines as well as English to speakers of other languages.